Nonprofit combats ‘period poverty’ with free menstrual product giveaways

‘Period poverty’ is the inability to access menstrual hygiene products and waste management services.

Lynette Medley, founder of No More Secrets

Lynette Medley, founder of No More Secrets.

Access to menstrual products is something that many people take for granted, but there’s a population in our country that goes without. A Philadelphia-based organization is making history working to put an end to what’s known as “period poverty.”

Lynette Medley, founder of No More Secrets, sat down with WHYY Host Cherri Gregg to discuss a new campaign that works to increase access to women’s menstrual products.  It’s called “Power a Period.”

Lynette, please explain what period poverty is.

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Lynette Medley (LM): So period poverty is the inability to access menstrual hygiene products in addition to waste management services. And it impacts, you know, thousands of people right here in the United States every day.

Tell us about your organization and what you all have been working to do over the past several years.

LM: No more secrets is a sexuality awareness organization. So we try to fight any stigmas or taboos related to sexuality-related topics. And one of the main things that we’ve been fighting lately is to end period poverty. We’ve really been trying to bring awareness to educate people about it and also provide resources to our marginalized communities.

I want you to explain because a lot of people hear about this, and they’re like, “This is a thing?” 

LM: Yes, it’s a thing. When you think of poverty, what do you think about? Because people have heard of poverty, so they usually say, “Oh, food insecurity, housing insecurities,” you know, issues with clothing and those things. And I say, “Well, okay, those same populations who can’t afford those things also can’t afford menstrual hygiene products because they are not covered by any federally mandated program.” You know, they’re not included in Medicaid, they’re not included in Medicare, they’re not covered under WIC, they’re not covered under SNAP. And most of us do not hold menstrual hygiene drives or give them out. So these people really suffer in silence.

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Lynette Medley. (Provided)
Lynette Medley. (Provided)

And that’s something that women need every single month, that can get really, really expensive.

LM: This is something that people don’t choose. We start people as young as 8 years old, so we can have a mom with four daughters and just think of the cost. It would impact her every month to be able to properly provide these products by herself, in addition to rent, utilities, and everything else. So it causes economic burden on many people. And it’s not just people in poverty. It can be like our middle class or just people suffering economically as a whole.

Are there health repercussions and challenges that can arise if you don’t have access to these types of hygiene products? Could you talk about that a little bit?

LM: Yes. People can get vaginosis, they can have uterine infections. They can get toxic shock syndrome from leaving a tampon in for a longer period of time and again. They can have outside infections on their outside area because they’re leaving a pad or sitting in an old hat for a period of time. And one of the other things that we’ve learned is that young people are using birth control pills nonstop because they can get them covered by Medicaid. That’s basically disruptive to their reproductive system.

This has actually become a full-fledged movement, and you’ve been advocating all the way up to Harrisburg and I guess the U.S. Capitol at this point on this topic. And there’s a day of action coming up.

LM: We have been activists for a long period of time, from being in conversations, being up in Harrisburg, being in D.C., just really bringing awareness that this is a health disparity that affects many people in our communities, people that you might live next door to and never know. One of the things that we did do recently was open up the first menstrual hub in the nation, during a national pandemic, so that we create a safe space and give products and waste management services and education to our communities. So we’re really about action. A lot of people like to talk about the issue, but we are always providing action. So October 9 is Period Action Day.

And one of the things you mentioned is that there is a new campaign. What is it and how will it work? 

LM: I am so excited about this campaign. It is called “Power a Period.” We have real-life women who have suffered from period poverty, women, children. They’re telling their stories, and they’re also talking about how No More Secrets changed their lives. So it was really giving women and children back their power. They feel powerless when their periods are on because they don’t have the resources, they don’t have the education, they don’t have the safe spaces, they don’t have the running water, all of these things that so many privileged populations take for granted. So we are powering up … asking our communities to donate the $7, $14 or $21 dollars to be able to allow our communities to live in dignity and feel powerful.

You actually go to people’s houses and drop off feminine hygiene products?

LM: Yes, we do. Because, you know, again, we speak out of our own perspective and privilege that, “Oh, someone can always come to us.” Not everybody can come to us. So we go into our communities. We give every menstruating individual in the house a five-month supply, so we can give up the 10 bags in one household, one street. In North Philadelphia, we gave 120 bags on one street. So that’s what we’re about. We’re about allowing our communities to live in dignity by giving them what they need to be able to basically feel good about themselves.

And as we wrap up, what would be the vision, like that to say, “You know what? We’ve done our job.” What would you like to see happen?”

LM: I think when legislation changes, when at least we added to Medicaid or Medicare or SNAP benefits, when we put it in every school that gets free lunches, you know, that’s the minimum that I would see, you know, making an impact. But also, I would like to see more No More Secret spots around the nation, so that people can have a safe drop-in center, a non-judgmental space to be able to … [get] their uterine health and wellness taken care of.

Thank you so much, Lynette.

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