De-stigmatizing the period
From the onset of puberty, menstruation (period) is something women have to deal with on a monthly basis – for decades – through to menopause. It’s with this understanding that civic organization The Dignified Girl Project recently sought to empower girls during a day-long conference that focused on helping them to understand their period, track their period, learn how to manage period symptoms, and give them all the options to assist them in choosing the best products for themselves, as well as accessing period products.
The conference “My Period My Pride” was held to coincide with the United Nations’ International Day of the Girl, which, this year, was held under the theme “GirlForce: Unscripted and Unstoppable” and emphasized to girls that despite having a period, they should not put a limit on themselves, and not allow their period to put limits on them.
“Still participate,” urged Phillipa Dean, founder of The Dignified Girl Project. “You can still be an athlete, you can still run races, you can still swim, and that’s what we wanted to encourage – female participation despite having a period or lack of resources.”
During the conference, they sought to educate girls on period management and period hygiene; to embrace their period and to de-stigmatize period-shaming.
“We just thought it fitting to make girls more knowledgeable about their period,” said Dean.
Menstruation is the technical term for a female getting her period. About once a month, females who have gone through puberty will experience menstrual bleeding. This happens because the lining of the uterus has prepared itself for a possible pregnancy by becoming thicker and richer in blood vessels. If pregnancy does not occur, this thickened lining is shed and accompanied by bleeding, which usually lasts for three to eight days. For most women, menstruation happens in a fairly regular, predictable pattern. The length of time from the first day of one period to the first day of the next period normally ranges between 21 to 35 days.
Dr. Pamela Carroll, gynecologist, spoke on the topic: “Understanding the Period and the Importance of Period Hygiene”; Ivy Campbell, educator and author, spoke on the topic: “Pads Through the Decades”; Rain Sands, Stayfree brand manager, Lowe’s Wholesale, took the girls through a closer look at disposable brands; Valerie Poitier, a sewing instructor, showed the girls how to sew reusable pads; Pauline Davis-Thompson, Olympic gold medalist and International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) council member, spoke to the topic: “My Period and Sports”; Alexis Johnson, Nature By Nature, addressed managing period symptoms nature’s way; Shervonne Bain, PTG Modelling Agency, spoke on the topic: “Period and Fashion”.
Davis-Thompson also encouraged the girls to get out and participate despite having a period. She spoke to them about the days of having incidences where she had practice and had to attend major events even though she was in pain from cramps.
Campbell spoke to the 60 girls in attendance on the topic “Period Products: Blast from the Past” during which she not only explained but demonstrated the detailed progression of period products over centuries.
In an era of the popularity of disposable products, the girls were introduced through interactive demonstrations to alternatives that can be used – period cups, synthetic pads, tampons (organic and synthetic), and reusable pads. The girls also learned how to sew reusable pads by sewing instructor Valerie Poitier.
“We wanted to present the girls with alternatives and options because we found that very often, many girls just think that disposable pads are the only options. So, we wanted to introduce them to other options like the reusable pad, which is also environmentally friendly,” said Dean.
While she had no local statistics on the topic through her research, Dean was able to speak to the girls about the pros and cons of reusable cloth pads which most of the girls were introduced to for the first time. Some of the pros included the positive impact of reusable pads on the environment because they’re not thrown into landfills, and are pocket-friendly.
“In the long run, the reusable pad was easier on the pocket. Depending on her cycle, on average a woman can spend up to $75 a year on disposable pads. When you purchase the materials for a reusable pad, you may spend about $30 in that one setting. You can sew them yourself [or order online]. If they’re properly cared for they can last up to two to three years.”
One of the cons for reusable pads was that they are time consuming as they have to be soaked after each use.
“I took them [girls] back to the days when women used cloth diapers for babies – once they were soiled they had to be immediately soaked [same concept for reusable pads]. If they use it at school and need to change it, they can fold, place it into something called a wet bag, take it home and as soon as they get home they can soak it.”
The reusable pad she said can then either be hand washed or thrown into the laundry with regular underwear, but only after being allowed to soak which Dean urged should happen as soon as possible after use to avoid staining. The reusable pads she said can also be dried in the clothes dryer.
“One of the cons for some persons was that it’s time consuming, especially with the soaking option, but if you choose to throw it in the wash, it’s not as time consuming as if you’re standing there washing it on your hands.”
Dean herself has used reusable pads, but found it wasn’t for her.
“I have tried the reusable pads and personally it’s not for me based on my comfort level and my flow and how it changes. But what I do use, even though it’s not a reusable pad, I use an organic pad made from organic cotton, and not a synthetic blend.”
Her point isn’t to advocate girls use reusable pads, but rather for them to have the education on all options available to them and to know that they have alternatives.
“We’re saying use or try, and then decide.”
This was the first conference for the “My Period My Pride” seminar for girls ages nine to 17. Dean sees the event as an evolution of The Dignified Girl Project, the organization that she founded.
“This was never our intention, but this is what it has evolved into two years later,” she said. “For me, receiving resources was one thing, but having a deeper knowledge of the resources that you’re receiving empower you.”
The girls that participated in The Dignified Girl Project were recruited through the organization’s partners that work directly with girls.
“We [The Dignified Girl Project] are just a resource hub. But those partners that we have – they work directly with girls on a daily basis, so we reached out to them and told them we’re hosting a period management and period hygiene seminar, and we would like to offer waived registration fees for at least five of the girls that you work with, and that is how we got our girls. They came through partners, civic organizations and church groups in the community that we’ve worked with in the past.”
Dean encouraged the girls to see The Dignified Girl Project as a resource center if they ever find themselves in need of personal hygiene products and missing school because they don’t have any.
“Give us a call, inbox us and let us know, and we will get a package to you,” said Dean.
The Dignified Girl Project started in 2017 as a way for Dean to take her charity work to the next level by ensuring young women received new bras and panties, after she counseled a mother who broke down over the fact that she could not afford to purchase her teen daughter a bra. Following that session, Dean made a promise to herself that she would form an organization to ensure that young women received new undergarments – basic needs to girls between the ages of six and 17, quarterly.
“I was like, this is a basic need, and no mother should have to shed tears over this, and no young girl should have to be concerned that when she’s changing for [physical education] that someone’s laughing at her torn bra,” Dean told The Nassau Guardian in an earlier interview. I made a promise that night in that session, that I would do something about it, and form an organization that would make sure that young women had new bras and new panties.”
In August 2017, Dean and a team of volunteers took to the streets in the East Street community with 100 bags of bras and panties to distribute free-of-charge to girls for their first distribution. During that distribution, Dean said they quickly realized that the need was great, and for more than just new undergarments. She said it became apparent that basic hygiene products — a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, sanitary products — were also needed. Dean and her team decided to take on the challenge of adding feminine care products to the original packages.
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