Black Families Are Disproportionately Affected by Period Poverty—Here's What They Need

20 percent of Black people who menstruate have unstable access to the products and support they need, but these Black women are working to change that.

Tampons and pads on a designed background
Photo: Getty Images/Kindred

Menstruation is a normal and natural process. But you wouldn't know that based on the way we talk about, and deal with, periods. Both menstruating parents and children, alike, become caught in a cycle of silence. We don't talk about how periods affect bodies or what kinds of products and support those bodies need. And if we're not talking about how to manage periods, we're certainly not talking about what happens when it's impossible to manage them.

Period poverty is unstable access to menstrual hygiene products, like sanitary products and facilities and education. A study conducted by George Mason University not only found that 1 in 10 college women experience period poverty, but that those who do were more likely to experience depression.

And while this is concerning for all communities, 20 percent of Black people who menstruate experience poverty and get by doing things like borrowing products, using toilet paper, fabric, or using nothing. We are also expected to remain silent about it more often. Solving period poverty involves multiple strategies including, but not limited to, education and advocacy, efforts to reduce stigma and shame, and increasing access to hygiene facilities and products.

Recognizing the Need When So Much Has Stayed the Same

And Black women are doing the work of advocating for change. Mother-daughter team, Nya McGlone and Lynette Medley founded No More Secrets Mind Body Spirit Inc., a sexuality awareness organization that also provides consulting on how to bring equity in menstrual health and reduce stigma through resources and accurate information, when they noticed uterine care and menstrual health disparities experienced by those in underserved communities.

Now, the pair is working with advocate Amber Wynn on Safety, Programing, Optimal Transformation (SPOT ), a menstrual hub in Germantown, Philadelphia where people can find free information and menstrual products to help manage their periods.

Black advocates—many of whom are parents—speak to the issue of society being "so focused on menstrual hygiene" that they fail to provide menstrual help. Menstrual insecurity occurs in the system with overlapping disparities in access to things like clean water access, waste management, food and housing insecurity, and, of course, education.

Medley and Wynn note that while things have changed, much is still the same.

Overwhelmingly, cis white women are the faces of people who menstruate in media. Black, brown, disabled, and trans and nonbinary communities still have limited access to education on sex and sexuality compared to their white and priviledge counterparts, and supporting marginalized folks through menstration means remember that a marginal identity often comes with irregular and heavy cycles. More effort should be given to ensure these communities the products, and mental health support, that come with that.

Educating Families and Celebrating Periods

Shanicia Boswell, author of Oh Sis, You're Pregnant! and founder of Black Moms Blog says menstruation should be 'private but not a secret.' According to Boswell, as we get more comfortable with these conversations, we will be better prepared to combat period poverty. She notes parents are often missing from the conversation on period poverty, but 1 in 3 worry whether they'll be able to afford period products for their children.

"Period poverty also strikes the single mother with three children having to decide if she can buy pads or baby formula. It looks like the young girl stuffing her panties with balled up tissue paper in her high school bathroom because her mother cannot afford to buy her feminine hygiene products," says Boswell.

Her annual period parties, which started to ensure her now-9-year-old daughter Kamryn didn't experience menstrual shame, have become a resource to combat period poverty.

In the four years since then, her parties have grown into a tool to educate families—both children and their parents—on details about menstruation like what a normal period is like, how periods are impacted by diet and other healthcare concerns like fibroids.

This year's party discussed what happens to the body when someone gets their first period, and included an interactive workshop showing parents how to create a period kit in preparation for their child's first period, and an opportunity for attendees to find out if their periods are normal. There are also panels with brands, including Black-owned plant-based feminine hygiene brand Honey Pot. Still, as the audience increased, Boswell's goal, to provide an educational celebration for our menstrual cycles, has stayed the same.

Boswell is determined to change the narrative, especially for Black girls, women and people who menstruate. "We are giving young Black girls a new story to follow - one that encourages them to love the body that they are in and accept all parts of themselves without shame."

Advocates, like Medley and Wynn, continue to emphasize the importance of access to products—and education—that people need to manage their periods. But Boswell's efforts remind that an open dialogue and period positivity can be useful for parents hoping to help children have a positive relationship to menstruation. This is useful in fighting period poverty, as well.

"Awareness around period poverty and purchasing feminine hygiene products to donate is a very conscious decision that is easily made once we open up the conversation around menstruation and a woman's right to a hygienic menstrual cycle," says Boswell. "A period no longer becomes a secret once we talk about it. By taking away the taboo shield over our eyes, we become more aware of those around us who may need help."

We are increasingly realizing the link between period poverty and the shame around menstruation. The more we allow open dialogues to happen and educate the next generation, the better off we'll be.

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