As women, we don't have to feel like it is a bad thing or need to hide it or be ashamed. We can be proud to be a woman and what that means. - Lisa Johnson
by Kathy Magnuson
Who knew? Sure, May is the month of Mother's Day, Memorial Day and Cinco de Mayo. But who knew that May also included Menstrual Hygiene Day?
In 2017, a global community will raise awareness of the challenges women and girls worldwide face due to their menstruation and to highlight solutions. The day is marked, in the Twin Cities on May 28.
One group, Support Women. Period., started when Lisa Johnson and Kue Yang Thao decided to stock feminine hygiene products in their workplace and guest bathrooms. As the products kept disappearing from certain places, they realized there was a huge unmet need they might not be able to fill alone. They asked, "What if having menstrual products was not a worry for women?" Their research showed an especially big need among women in homeless shelters, transitional housing and shelters for victims of domestic violence - all places that depend on donations of supplies.
They also became aware that "people are not talking about it," Johnson explains. "As women, we don't have to feel like it is a bad thing or need to hide it or be ashamed. We can be proud to be a woman and what that means."
In late 2015 and early 2016, Johnson and Yang Thao got a few people together, created a logo and launched a website. They had their first collection drive in June 2016. They placed fliers and donation bins at sites such as salons and gyms. Some locations promoted it with discounts to customers who contributed. The women filled 50 bags, donated by a local printing company, with 25 tampons and pads per bag. As a next step, they set up a distribution table at community events that offered food to those in need. Their product give-aways were met with enthusiasm.
This year Support Women. Period. is partnering with Boston Scientific and other organizations, with the hope of even larger drives every three months. They hosted a movie screening with donated products as the price of admission. Bags are being distributed at homeless shelters and organizations that advocate for girls in need.
Another approach to finding a solution is taken by local chapters and teams of Days for Girls International, an organization with the mission of creating a more dignified, free and educated world through access to lasting feminine hygiene solutions. According to Linda Ruscher, a leader of the Minneapolis chapter, the teams sew feminine hygiene kits that can be washed and re-used. The chapters do the sewing, help educate and collect fabrics.
Kits are distributed through organizations and individuals in more than 100 countries where girls and women do not have ready access to menstrual products. Each kit serves a girl for three years, possibly allowing her to stay in school more of each month.
The teams and chapters hold sewing and cutting events to make kits, and the bags to hold them. There are even smaller groups that take fabric home for sewing - one woman sews at home every day. "When you see [a photo of someone] in Africa or Guatemala who got one of your kits, that's amazing," Ruscher says. "We know it is making a difference for girls to have more opportunities growing up."
Volunteer time, donate materials, take kits overseas, host events, help with grant writing. There are chapter leaders throughout Minnesota (and the country). Check the website for details.