Why is it that we feel a need to hide our tampons up our sleeves like some kind of contraband as we sneak off to the bathroom at school or work? And why is it that we whisper about our periods to our friends for fear of being overheard? When women menstruate, historically, we view that as something to be ashamed of, something that is handled in private—just one of those things we don’t really talk about. My name is Sophie Draluck, and I am here to talk about it. I am here to discuss menstruation openly and proudly in an effort to shed the stigma that often surrounds our periods, and to address the lack of access to menstrual products that far too many women around the world face. According to data from the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 500 million people experience “period poverty” around the world, or in other words, do not have access to menstrual products. Globally, period poverty causes millions of women and girls to miss work or school, and in many cases, drop out altogether. Because of the harmful stigma surrounding menstruation, most people are not even aware that period poverty is a pervasive issue across the entire world.
I did not learn of this glaring issue until 2017, after reading an article in the Chicago Tribune about teens in Uganda missing a week of school a month because they lacked access to menstrual products. As I dug deeper, I discovered that this lack of access isn’t just a problem facing women in remote African villages, but that the problem is global. Even in my “comfortable” hometown of Highland Park, I learned that women are struggling to afford menstrual products due to their high cost and unattainability through food pantries and government assistance programs, and when I met with my local food pantry, I discovered that menstrual products were among the most requested, yet least donated items.
Deeply disturbed by these realities,, I set out to tackle period poverty by starting Cycle Forward (www.cycleforwardnow.org), a non-profit aimed at empowering women and girls by promoting menstrual equity, or equal access to period products. Cycle Forward creates a positive and immediate impact by collecting in-kind and cash donations that are used to fund the bulk purchase of menstrual products, which we then distribute to women in need through food pantries, shelters, and other organizations that directly serve under-resourced women and teens. So far, we have donated over 75,000 tampons and pads across the Chicago area, Florida, U.K., India, and Haiti. Cycle Forward also seeks to reduce the negative stigma surrounding periods by educating others about period poverty through events and speaking engagements and by encouraging open dialogue about periods and menstrual inequity.
As a way to increase awareness and to empower more women and teens, Cycle Forward launched a High School Outreach project this year, partnering with school service clubs, and working with them to hold a period product drive for a local pantry. Organizing a school or community period product drive to support your local food pantry is a great way to get involved and ensure that women and teens in your area have the access to menstrual products they need to fully participate in their communities. Please know that Cycle Forward and I stand ready to work with you to help launch a project!
Because raising awareness is so essential to making progress, I’m especially grateful to announce my receipt of a 2020 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award! Tikkun Olam means “to repair the world,” and the Tikkun Olam Awards are given annually to Jewish teen leaders committed to addressing the most pressing challenges in their communities. I’m excited at the opportunity this award gives me to grow as an activist and to continue working to achieve menstrual equity. You can learn more about @dillerteenawards and the other powerful young changemakers making a difference in their communities as this year’s awardees at https://www.dillerteenawards.org/ Additionally, to keep up with our fight for menstrual equity or to join us in becoming part of the solution, please follow us on Instagram @cycleforwardnow or email me at email@example.com for more information. And remember, when girls win, we all win, even if it’s by one boldly displayed tampon at a time.