Chicago — When Chicago native Inez Woody recently took a trip to Negril, Jamaica, she went for vacation and to enjoy time with family.
But after meeting someone who taught her about how girls in Negril were impacted by a lack of menstrual products, she came back to the Midwest an advocate, wanting to spread awareness about the public health crisis which affects about 500 women and girls nationwide, including 44% of girls in Jamaica.
Upon returning to the states, Woody, who works in IT for a law firm and who’s also a writer, decided to partner with three Black-owned businesses to help collect sanitary pads and panties at each location.
For her, the effort aimed not only to help the girls in Negril, but to spread awareness about the impacts of period poverty in the United States, where an estimated 16.9 million people who menstruate live in poverty.
“It goes under the radar because it’s such a taboo topic,” said Woody. “If you don’t have the right products to support yourself, it’s going to affect your self-esteem.”
According to Medical News Today, being able to access menstrual products can make individuals feel embarrassed about or ashamed of their periods. It can also cause young people to miss out on school.
Additionally, research has found that a lack of access to these products can have negative effects on someone's mental health. One study found that those who experienced period poverty had symptoms of moderate-to-severe depression and had higher rates of depression than their peers.
For 15-year-old Adamaris Esparza of Chicago, that fact is both surprising and devastating.
“(Without those products) you just don’t know what to do because you need them,” she said.
That’s why she thinks efforts like Woody’s are important.
“I think it’s important for everyone to get educated and to have access to (the products) even if you don’t have the money,” she said.
Renee Cameron agreed.
Cameron, who attends middle school in Blue Island, Illinois, knows how fortunate she is to not lack for what many consider are the basic necessities to live. Toiletries should never be something anything should have to do without, or worry about having to afford them.
“I may be young but I do pay attention to those machines in public bathrooms and in schools that require a quarter or two for a pad or tampon. I don’t think it’s right. Access to those products should be free, especially for kids,” said the 12-year-old.
The sticking point for the sixth-grader is children oftentimes can’t afford to buy lunch, so adding on them needing extra money, if they can get it, for sanitary products makes no sense.
“If you can’t make the stuff free in public bathrooms, at least make them free in schools,” stressed Cameron.