Stigma, taxes, and period poverty

Guest: Michela Bedard
Michela Bedard is an outspoken feminist. She has to be. As the Executive Director of Period, she is heading up a youth-led movement to end period poverty around the world. Michela doesn't shy away from hard conversation and believes that there should be no shame or stigma around the topic of menstruation. We discuss how menstruation inequity is a foundational element of gender gaps across industries and why she believes it is critical to have menstruators at every table where decisions are being made if we are ever going to achieve gender equity.
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Michela Bedard Transcript

Sabrina Merage Naim
From Evoke Media I'm Sabrina Merage Naim, with me is Kassia Binkowski, and this is Breaking Glass - a series of conversations with women around the world who are shattering glass ceilings and challenging social norms. They are audacious, gutsy, and their stories are echoed across borders and generations in a rallying cry that is changing the narrative for women everywhere. Today we're talking about periods. Menstruation is something that more than half of the global population deals with, and yet is still so taboo to talk about. We're joined by Michela Bedard, Executive Director of PERIOD. She's leading one of several organizations working to end period poverty around the world through advocacy, education and access to information.

Kassia Binkowski
Sabrina and I love when our guests are tackling those things that nobody wants to talk about. Periods, tampon tax, the stigma around menstruation? It's about time we're having these conversations, and it's really an honor to have Michela on the show to share the work that her team is doing to bring attention to the issue.

Sabrina Merage Naim
We're talking about patriarchy, legislation, sex education, as well as what it is going to take to create cultural shifts for the next generation of mentruators. This topic is messy, and it's real. Michela tackles it head on. Take a listen. Michela, thank you so much for joining us today on a topic which is truly near and dear to my heart and frankly, impacts half the population of the world. So it's important, and we need to talk about it. Thank you for being with us.

Michela Bedard
I'm so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Sabrina Merage Naim
So I'd like to hear a little bit about your story. Where did you come from? What shaped you and how did you come to care so passionately, and ultimately, professionally about menstruation equity.

Michela Bedard
I know it's a funny career to be in. You know, I've spent the last 15-20 years of my professional life in various political and advocacy roles. And I think I realized by my mid-thirties, that the through line to all of my advocacy is women. And working for the most marginalized women and women that have been pushed to the outskirts of society for systemic reasons that really have nothing to do with them or their lived experience. And it's something that is put on them. And I think that once that really came to be my clear understanding that more than just calling myself progressive and working for left wing causes and working to support homeless women. Once I realized that actually what I really cared about was talking about the deep systemic reasons that women are pushed to the margins, then it became clear what I wanted to do. And that paired with my deep belief that civic engagement and getting people to talk about these issues is in itself the solution to a lot of these issues, led me to learn a lot about period poverty, and inspired me to help this next generation of leaders tackle these issues, talk about these issues in a way that is not taboo that they don't shy away from. So I was honored and humbled to be hired as Executive Director of PERIOD. It is an incredible organization focused on eradicating period poverty, but doing it through a youth leadership lens, getting young people to be involved in this movement to solve period poverty in their lifetimes. It's a total honor.

Kassia Binkowski
So on a global scale, and we'll get into this in a little bit more detail, but the impact of menstruation on women's lives and on the lives of transgender and non-binary individuals who also menstruate is tremendous. And we're going to break that down in a minute but I'm curious to hear you speak right away about, what does menstruation and equity and period poverty mean to you?

Michela Bedard
So period poverty is the very simple problem of not being able to have access to or afford menstrual supplies, being forced to make a decision between other essential supplies and menstrual supplies. And the fact that period poverty exists, is systemic because it comes from patriarchal systems, from centuries of non-menstruators being in decision-making places, so that the idea of essential supplies being menstrual goods didn't come into the equation, right? When non-menstruators think of essential goods, they think of shelter. They even might think of things like soap, right? They think of food, they think of family and community. Menstrual supplies are not on the list of a non-menstruators thoughts of what's essential supplies. And so period poverty is something that happens when menstruators have to make the choice between two essential goods. And oftentimes they will choose to put food on the table for their family, or keep themselves clean in other ways, because they think that this is something that can just be hidden. That they can deal with by using other kinds of supplies that might not be hygienic, or remove themselves from school or work or family or sports when they're going through their menstruation because they don't have the proper supplies to deal with it. What we need to be able to say really proudly now, is that menstruation is just a big part of life. It's quite literally a quarter of your life for the many years that you're a menstruator. It's a week out of every month, and to need to suffer from shame or a lack of dignity, or needing to remove yourself from other aspects of your life for a biological process is totally unjust. So when you think of just the fact of poverty on a global scale, period poverty is something that's just not talked about nearly as much.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Yeah, and a term that I think probably so many people have never heard or not aware of. And I want to talk about that shame for a minute. Because I have this visual of the history being you know, when you start your period, you get banished to the mud hut and free bleed into the dirt for a week, right? Because you are now unclean. So the stigma and the shame that exists and that is endured by girls and women around the world is real. And I actually really appreciate that you're saying that your organization starts with teenagers, because I think that's where it starts. You have to try and peel away all of that shame among younger people so that when they grow up, they don't feel that stigma. But it does exist. It's very real. And I think I speak for most women in industrialized countries when I say that we've all hid tampons up our sleeves, we've had nightmares of public leakage. That is a trauma inducing thing during our youth and still as as adult. Do you remember feeling that same shame as a girl?

Michela Bedard
Oh, yeah. I mean, I have a memory of being in middle school and my period coming in the middle of math class and not having the product and having to put my sweatshirt around my waist and run to the nurse's office, who in my school shared the office with the front desk lady, the Secretary of the school. So I'm going up there, and I'm whispering that I need a product and feeling embarrassed about it. And I think that that's something that we always brushed off as just a coming of age story. But that's crazy. Schools provide soap, they provide toilet paper, they do their best to make sure that kids aren't bullied, they do their best to make sure that kids are fed. They do their best to even provide a nurse to make sure that kids are cared for. Why is it that this thing that a quarter of the middle school, menstruators were going through on any given day is something that was so taboo and shameful? I even remember in college being a 20 year old student and dropping my purse and having tampons fall out and being so embarassed.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Yeah. Right. So anecdotally and this is, I think, a lesson for all mothers out there of daughters. As a teenager, I really struggled with this. I hated it. It was like there was a week out of every month that I was just in a foul mood and I was so upset. I would call it the curse, which is also historically something that we say, "the curse". And I really was in that negative mental frame of mind. And one day my mom takes me out to lunch. And she gives me a necklace that she made for me out of turquoise which is a very spiritually powerful stone. And she said "from now on, every time you get your period, I want you to wear this necklace. And remember the power of being a woman that this is your body's healthy, natural way of every month. You know, renewing, renewing, refreshing, cleansing and to think of the beautiful biological reality of your body that it's taking care of itself, and stop thinking about it as a curse and stop thinking about it in such a negative way". And it so changed my mindset dramatically for the rest of my life to be able to have that different frame of mind. But most families don't do that. I'm very grateful that my mom had that presence of mind to change that reality for me. Most families don't, societies do not, cultures do not. And particularly countries around the world who don't, it's really shameful, we brush it under the rug, and don't talk about it. And it's something that women and girls have to hide and be ashamed of.

Michela Bedard
Well, you have a wonderful Mom, I love that. I have a similar story. When I was in high school, my mom gave me this beautiful piece of art that I had on my wall, I still have and now I love it, because now it really has to do with my day to day life. But it's just a picture of a silhouette of a woman. And it just says "free woman, be free as the moon is freed from the eclipse of the sun". And I love it. And I want that for all young menstruators, to feel free and be free while also being proud of their cycle. And understanding that every human being in the world has either come from a menstruator or lives with a menstruator or is a menstruator, and to feel freedom in that and pride in that. But I want to get back to what you said a minute ago about the extent of period poverty. Period poverty, of course, is a global issue. We all know those stories of the huts and the banishment and there's so much work to be done there. But it is a rampant issue in the United States, and it's not talked about enough here. The numbers that come out of period poverty studies are stunning. 1 in 10 college students currently in 2021, has experienced a lack of access to period products on campus. One in four young students either has or knows a friend who experiences period poverty currently, and folks who are reliant on public programs, temporary access for needy family or snap or WIC programs, those programs don't cover period products. Again, this gets back to who are the decision makers that created those lists of what can be provided to people? So this is a problem that's happening right here. It's not happening with as much shame and stigma and abuse, but it's happening right here. And without advocates talking about it, folks suffering from period poverty are going to just simply continue suffering from period poverty, unless we start talking about it and really naming what it is.

Kassia Binkowski
So let's talk about the dirty side of the menstruation industry for a second. The average woman, again including transgender and non-binary, the average menstruator has her period for more than 2,500 days. It's some kind of really impressive figure. That's like seven years. And over the course of a lifetime, that's thousands of dollars spent on menstruation supplies. What can you tell us about the origin of that cost? Where that tampon tax comes from? What do you want every woman to know about the dirty side of that industry?

Michela Bedard
Well, I'd like menstruators like us to think about what we spend on our menstruation. Because at first we think, "well, we might buy tampons and pads at the store". Well think about the sheets, the clothing, the laundry costs. Think about the time that we have missed because of period pain or lack of access to period pain treatments or lack of understanding about how to treat our own period pain. It is thousands of dollars. And on average for folks that don't have access to in-home laundry or multiple pairs of clothing and sheets and resources, it ends up to something like $30 in value a month. Between time lost, laundry, cost of actual product. That's a lot of money when you are living on the margins of economic insecurity. So multiply that by many, many years over your life. Multiply that by income inequality, how things are getting more and more expensive here all the time, as we know. And then on top of that, understand that because period products are very rarely ever listed as essential goods, they are taxed as though they are luxury consumer goods. So let's talk about taxes for a little bit. So in our country, we have federal taxes, but our sales taxes are regulated by each state. And as we know, there are some states that have no sales tax, I live in Oregon, no sales tax. New Hampshire, no sales tax. There's some states like that. Most states have basic sales taxes on goods that they sell. But as we also know, some items are exempt from sales taxes, because they are considered essential.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Give us some examples.

Michela Bedard
Gladly. So for the most part, medicine, right, for the most part, food, but then state by state, they can make exceptions. State by state, governments can make exceptions to which goods are taxed. There are some states where chainsaws are not taxed. There are some states where guns are taxed less. There are some states where Viagra is considered a medicine. There are some states where men's hair growth, topical products are considered medicine. Now we can have a separate conversation and argue about whether or not those things should be taxed. But it certainly makes no sense to have those items not be taxed, but period products, which every menstruator not just wants but needs, to be taxed. So I'm going to say it again, this gets back to the fact that menstruators were not in the room when these lists were created. And so this is something that we feel very strongly, needs to be repealed across the country to help have safe and accessible menstrual products for all. However, sales tax is kind of a middle class issue. If you're someone who's living in deep poverty, the fact that tampons are taxed or not taxed is not going to help you too much to be able to purchase them when you're at the store. We also need to make sure that menstrual products are available to folks living in poverty in public places, where they need them at schools and community centers and shelters and even things like prisons, and jails. So we just need to make sure that period products are essential goods everywhere where we provide things that are essential.

Sabrina Merage Naim
So let's be clear. The so called tampon tax, which is the nickname for the sales tax, apply to feminine hygiene products in many countries, not just the US is hotly debated, and there are there are the opponents and the proponents. So the opponents, like what you're saying, argue that tampons and pads should be treated like essential items, because half the population need this. Just like medicine, just like groceries. And proponents argue that it's a revenue generating issue, and it's a consumer product good that should be taxed just like every other consumer product good. So my question to you is what do you estimate as the financial burden of menstruation to be on the menstruators in the United States? You alluded to it before, but do you have actual numbers for that?

Michela Bedard
Well, it certainly depends on the type of product that people are purchasing, and the type of period care that menstruators give themselves. So it's difficult to give you a number across the board, because everyone considers hygiene a little bit different, and everyone wants to take care of themselves differently. For example, a menstrual cup which go anywhere from $25 to $60, might last several years of somebody's life. On average, though the number of $30 a month that it takes a menstruator to essentially manage their period we find to be fairly accurate. When you're looking at disposable products on average, we have found that a menstruator will use 15+ disposable products per cycle. And if they are using reusable cloth pads, period underwear or cups, there's obviously water and power and sanitation that goes into that as well.

Kassia Binkowski
Michela, are there other taxes in the United States or other countries that are levied on only half of the population like this?

Michela Bedard
No.

Kassia Binkowski
I mean don't you just want to scream it from the rooftops? It's honestly infuriating, and it's an issue where you can, like Sabrina said for a second, can rationalize this or you can see your way to the other side. And then you break it down and... I just get angry.

Michela Bedard
Right, well, I think the question is, why are viewing these as consumer products? Well, because we have been raised to learn that we use disposable products that are branded by flashy companies, and that we should buy the fanciest disposable products. And so then there's marketing that goes into it, and there's distribution costs that go into it so that it should be a consumer product like any consumer product. I suppose I understand that argument, okay? In the same way that I could decide to save up money and buy the fanciest shampoo on the market. But if I didn't have funds, and I relied on public assistance, I should be able to have access to soap and shampoo that will function for me and be safe and accessible for me. So why is it not the same for a menstrual hygiene product?

Sabrina Merage Naim
And to be fair soap and shampoo are products that are used by everybody, not just half the population, not just specifically women. So in 2019, 22 states were considering a repeal of the tampon tax, but none of those bills were signed into law. Why not?

Michela Bedard
Well, they're very close to being signed in now, so I don't want to be too "Debbie Downer" about it. This is going to be a banner year for repealing the tampon tax state by state. So I just want to start off by saying we feel very good that this is starting to be talked about. I'm on this podcast, we're having more and more major pieces of media are being written about this every day. So we are feeling good. But to answer your question, let's look at who's voting these who was in the state legislatures across the board? Are they overwhelmingly non-menstruators? Are they overwhelmingly people who have too much shame and taboo about talking about menstruation on the House floors of their legislatures? If it's difficult for a group of menstruators to lobby for this issue, because no one wants to hear it, because they're embarrassed to hear words like blood and vulva and cleanliness and hygiene, then they're less likely to take this up and talk about it. So this is a systemic issue that goes beyond the tampon tax, we need to replace the people in power with menstruators, or at the very least of the people in power, be willing to listen to menstruators and actually talk about it. It's one of the reasons I'm so proud that our organization is called PERIOD. We have to start talking about it. It's another reason why we're so excited to invest in a new generation of leaders. Gen Z is growing out without nearly as much stigma and taboo around topics like this, we already know and can see how quickly Gen Z and even younger are changing our culture. I am so excited to see them move into these decision-making roles, and watch issues like period poverty fall away, because they're going to understand that this is an essential issue and not be embarrassed to talk about it. I think what we need to do right now is push, state by state, on legislators to vote to repeal it. Just two days ago PERIOD was excited to be a co-sponsor of the California Menstrual Equity for All act, which was introduced into the California assembly by assembly member Christina Garcia. We are so excited to be a part of that. We think that has a real shot. There's a lot of associations of student governments on board, as is the Alliance for Period Supplies, part of Diaper Bank. So we're seeing this go state by state now and being something that might be more palatable to folks. But again, that's not going to solve period poverty.

Kassia Binkowski
And it's exciting to hear you say that. I mean, we had a conversation recently with Erin Loos Cutraro, who's the ED of She Should Run, and her organization is feeding this pipeline of women into political office. And you are reflecting on this need to have menstruators in these positions of authority and decision making roles here in the US, but what's going on around the rest of the world? I know that Britain, I believe just abolished their tampon tax, as recently as a few weeks ago. What else? What does the global landscape right now look like?

Michela Bedard
Well, I think that Scotland making sure that period products were free and accessible to all menstruators was a big deal that just happened a few months ago. We're really excited for that. Now, Scotland is a small country, we are so excited that they were able to do that. And it was because of some very brave parliament members in Scotland that came in really championed this. Now we're seeing this in Britain, which is huge. This is kind of the the strange silver lining to Brexit is that UK was able to repeal this tax, which is a funny way to think about it. We are seeing it in more and more countries. But it's not enough. We need to see this globally as an essential good. We also need to be culturally sensitive to how a lot of different menstruators want to manage their period. In many places around the world, reusable period products are the way that they manage the period. So how are we making sure that not only are there cloth and cups supplies for people, but there's clean water for them. And there's the ability for them to clean their products with good sanitation in a way that isn't affected by too much discrimination or taboo. I think we also need to make sure that overall, this young generation of leaders is not just limited to the United States, there's a lot of organizations United States investing in this new generation of leaders, but this needs to be global. PERIOD has over 500 active period chapters around the world. We're in 50 countries right now, these are youth led volunteer chapters that want to talk about this in their own community, as they are experts in their own culture and own community. So far be it from us, as Americans, to tell every menstruator around the world how to manage their periods. But we will always stand on the side of menstruators not having to remove themselves from other aspects of society to manage their period.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Yeah, and to your point, as uncomfortable as it is for us socially and physically, who have access to menstruation products, we know that there are cultures where the price is so much greater. Communities where girls drop out of school because they can't afford the sanitary products to cope with their periods, others where girls are left with no choice but to sell themselves in order to cover the cost of those products. So what can you tell us about the burden of cultural stigma, shame and social isolation? I mean you said that we have to be culturally sensitive, that there are needs across the board. But what's going on in some of these countries that are maybe not as progressive and not as far along in the conversation? What is happening to the menstruators in those countries?

Kassia Binkowski
I would push back even further, Sabrina, I'm not sure it's about countries not being further along. It's just about resources. It's about it being that much more expensive to have access or not having access at all, that forces some of these paralyzing decisions.

Michela Bedard
I think that's exactly right. Kassia, that's a paralyzing decision. And these are the decisions that we see come out of all kinds of poverty, right? Women are more likely to have to sell their bodies when they are experiencing poverty, women are more likely to be stuck in cycles of abuse, when they're experiencing poverty, they're more likely to take themselves out of education and the workforce when they're experiencing poverty. So when you layer on top of that something like period poverty, that also has sexism and gender discrimination on it, then you are less likely to see women be able to advocate for themselves and see menstruators to be able to advocate for themselves for fear of abuse and discrimination. I think that's really what we're talking about. So as an organization, PERIOD can come and help advocacy groups in regional areas and cultures fight for what those menstruators need. But truly, it's a battle against the intersection of poverty and gender justice. And what happens when you intersect gender injustice and poverty, is you experience more discrimination, more cycles of abuse. And so education is a key component of it. pipelines to leadership for young menstruators is a huge component of it. So this is, when I say systemic issue, what I'm really saying is it's an issue that is truly intersectional and needs to be tackled, with lots of different strategies.

Sabrina Merage Naim
A few years ago, there was a documentary short that won the Academy Award, Period End of Sentence, which was one of the first times if not the first time that there was a real global awareness of this issue, and this particular film took place in Indiana and it was rural communities in India, but I can tell you that I forced my husband to sit down and watch this film. I said, you know, you have a daughter, you need to know what's going on. I called everybody that I knew, and I said, this is 20 minutes of your life. Watch this film. What role does media play in this? What about consumer products? How what are the ways that we are effectively raising awareness and, you know, and fighting that education block that we have?

Michela Bedard
We have to change culture. And culture can change quickly. Culture shifts can come in floods and storms sometimes. Look at this last year. What has happened to us the new ways that we have looked at public health, that we have centered racial justice even more than ever before. It is "coming like a thunderbolt", to quote Barack Obama when the Supreme Court handed down the decision about marriage equality. Culture change can come quickly, and I believe that this new generation of leaders will solve period poverty in their lifetime. But I think the media has an enormous role to play. The media is both a reflection of culture and also a cultural leader. And this is an area where they have to be both, they have to document this new activist movement against period poverty, but they also have to not be afraid to talk about it. I love seeing periods on screen more, just the fact of someone getting their period is more talked about. I love it. I remember a few years ago, Bronze City had, you know, talked about periods and it was still taboo, and people couldn't believe it and little clips went viral. Even that feels antiquated, we're talking about it more and more. So media has an enormous part to play. Social media has an enormous part to play in terms of teens talking about their periods, and being able to share that with some virality, that that makes an enormous difference. People can poopoo and all they want, but it is changing culture quickly. So that's something that I'm really excited to see. And there have been women menstruators working against period poverty for decades, especially in this country. And I feel like we stand on their shoulders. And we are so grateful for all of their hard work and trailblazing in this really difficult area. And now this young generation is just blowing it out of the water with their refusal to feel shame about this issue.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Brava. May it only continue, snowball effect from here.

Kassia Binkowski
Tell us more about the hurdles that you're facing. I mean, I hear you with the optimism and I and it's it's contagious, for sure. But there is a lot of work to be done. So what are the greatest barriers to progress right now?

Michela Bedard
The biggest barriers to progress are the patriarchal systems that at the end of the day, act as a brick wall against some of this culture change. Oftentimes, policy is a reflection of culture change, and policy follows culture change. Not always, but often. And I think what we're seeing when we talk about these state by state legislators that see this overwhelming sea of support from young people to repeal the tampon tax, but then just don't vote for it, because I feel like it's kind of icky. That's an enormous barrier, that is going to be changed with new leadership coming in. But there's also a deep need for comprehensive sex education in this country.

Sabrina Merage Naim
You mean not the videos that we saw that were filmed in the 80s? And so awkward, and we would just turn our eyes and ears off and suffer through it? Not that?

Michela Bedard
Oh, yeah. Check this out, everybody - 1946, Disney and Kotex made an animated feature called The Story of Menstruation, and it's these little white girls growing up. And menstruation happens to them, and then they become these beautiful, flowery women. They're mostly thin and blonde. And the whole thing is so filled with stigma, and this kind of false beauty of what periods are. I guess, bless them for trying to do this in the 40s, I can't imagine what they were up against with stigma. But the fact that that is even a top video on YouTube when you Google menstruation right now? That needs to go, so we need much better comprehensive sex education. And also, we need to equip parents and caregivers to talk about this with their kids, because they did not experience comprehensive sex education. And so they don't know how to talk about this. We need to start talking about how sex ed is not just about sex, it's about health, and bodies, and empowerment, and giving people the right words and expectations about their own bodies. So they can advocate for themselves, be less likely to be abused or marginalized in a healthcare setting. They all need the words to talk about themselves. So that's another big barrier that we see over and over again, is that still even now, teens have teams have to discover this for themselves.

Sabrina Merage Naim
You heard it here first, sex-ed is not about just rolling a condom down a banana. It's not what it is. It's not what it should be.

Michela Bedard
Like that is only partially about sex. It's mostly just about bodies. Do you remember, maybe you didn't have this experience but when I got my health class, in fifth grade. They would separate the girls from the boys and the girls would learn about their bodies. And the boys would learn about their bodies, which is not only just completely gender-phobic and trans blind, but also doesn't allow for us to learn about each other's bodies and so you continue stigma around your bodies and around your puberty. And not allow yourself to share it with people in your life who might have a different gender.

Sabrina Merage Naim
That's ludicrous. I went to Catholic school, and I'm just remembering now, our sex ed portion of whatever class that we had. And I'm imagining the nuns standing in the side of the classroom, I wonder, what were they thinking when they put these videos on? And we weren't separated, the boys and the girls were not separated. But it certainly wasn't comprehensive, certainly wasn't, okay, now I feel like I have a better understanding of what my body is going through, the challenges, what boys are going through, how we're gonna, handle this? That just was not a reality.

Michela Bedard
And it should be. Young menstruators should understand what's going on in the bodies of non-menstruators as well. We should all be on the same page.

Kassia Binkowski
Well, and until we can talk about it, there's no chance of changing anything. It's been fun on this show to get to speak with different individuals in wildly different industries. And menstruation has come up more than once. We spoke with Darcy Gaechter, who's the first woman to kayak down the Amazon. And we're asking how she dealt with it and what that looked like. We spoke with Dr. Winnie Kiera, who's a leader in wildlife conservation, and she was saying how there aren't women in the field, in large part because the system isn't set up with the resources to give them access to supplies to accommodate their hygiene needs. So there's a whole void of women in the industry, because it's not set up for that. So it's come up a lot.

Sabrina Merage Naim
It sounds so silly to say it like that, right? That there are women who had aspirations to go into, wildlife conservation or to be outdoor athletes or to whatever that might be. But having your period is the big deterrent. It sounds silly.

Michela Bedard
It used to sound silly to me, not anymore. Let's talk about active military. Menstruators in the field that don't have product or have to bring whatever they might need for however long they might be there, or menstruators in space, or mentruators who are pilots. I mean, this comes up all the time. At PERIOD, we hear these stories from people who said, "this has always been something that has kept me from advancing in my career", but I never thought about it as a discrimination way. I just thought about it as a well, I guess I can't do that because I don't have the supplies. But it wasn't until I learned more about this that I realized this is really messed up. I should be able to have these supplies.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Let's also acknowledge the fact that not every woman or not every menstruator has the same kind of period right there. Darcy director who was on the river for five months, admitted that she feels very fortunate that she has a such a light period that she barely even had to contend with it. I have days where I'll have to change my tampon every hour. That's not feasible for me. So being able to acknowledge that every menstruator goes through a hugely different experience that becomes much more challenging in work, in life and taking care of children, and just in general.

Kassia Binkowski
And you're just talking about flow, like blood volume. We're not talking about pain management, we're not talking about the hormonal waves, and everything else that affects how we function for that one week a month.

Michela Bedard
Well, right. And it's not even about how to simply manage the flow privately. But how are we given the tools to talk about our flow in a way that is fact based and not shamed, and lets us just just advocate for our own needs? Like, "hey, I'm going to need 10 times that amount of product because I have a heavier flow". And then you're also more likely to advocate for yourself in a healthcare setting, to think that you might have a uterine disorder or you might have something wrong. You need to be able to know what's normal and what's not because you've heard menstruators around you talking about their experiences their whole life, hopefully, right? This is something that we run into time and again, when people say, "Okay, I want to supply menstruators for a cycle, how many products do they need"? Well, 15 on average, but it's up to that menstruator, we want to give generously to make sure that we can cover them for whatever they need. So I think this question comes up all the time, and so many people I've talked to who, it's not until their 30s that they realize that they experienced endometriosis and fibroids and PCLS because they just thought they were dealing with what a period was, and they didn't have enough evidence around them, because nobody's talking about it exactly.

Sabrina Merage Naim
So we've heard what a lot of the hurdles are, we understand the cultural, social, economic challenges, stigmas, shame around it. We're also hearing that the tide may be turning now. So tell us a little bit more about your wins, specifically, PERIOD's organizational wins.

Michela Bedard
The big wins for us are the fact that we have hundreds of youth led chapters and partners that are doing anti period poverty work in their communities every single day. For us, we consider the fact that this movement needs to grow in order to establish real victory. The legislative wins are exciting, and I'm happy to talk about that in more detail. But far and away more impactful is the breadth of the movement because periods don't stop. They don't stop for pandemics. They don't stop for failed legislation. They don't stop for natural disasters, they don't stop for other healthcare issues. And so we need to consistently on the ground grow the movement. And we need to do it through service getting marginalized menstruators the product they need, wherever they are. Advocacy, talking about this issue, putting pressure on decision makers. And decision makers, by the way, aren't always elected officials, they might be school administration, it might be a shelter manager. It might be someone that works in the jail and prison system that's in charge of curating product. And then we also do it through education. So in local communities around the world, we need to support education efforts. And if there are none, we need to help introduce them. Sometimes introducing legislation is a period club, sitting around an empty community space and talking about my administration is sometimes advocating for ministration is introducing curriculum to teachers and educators to talk about how they can better provide it. And sometimes it's even creating the content so that educators have to share it. But if we don't do those three things, service and education and advocacy, and every community where there are menstruators, then we're not really on top of the ball. Some of the things that are really exciting right now is that in last year's Cares Act, which was in response to COVID, there was a big win tucked in there. Who knew, Mitch McConnell's act? There was some language in there that representative Grace Meng from New York has been championing for so long, which allowed menstrual product to purchase through FSA and HSA accounts. Seems like a small win. But it's a big deal, because it puts menstrual products on that list of essential supplies that can be purchased by FSA and HSA accounts. So on a federal level, that is a really big deal, because we're starting to talk about the word menstruation in a Senate Bill. So that's a big win. Now, do people suffering from deep poverty have assets, FSA and HSA accounts? No, but we are really excited to celebrate that as a win. And speaking of representative Grace Meng, she has been a champion for the Menstrual Equity for All Act, which has been introduced and has not yet been passed. But this bill would require that free menstrual products be provided in schools and shelters, and that they would be covered by Medicaid, which is critical, because we don't have other public funding that covers it right now. I encourage everyone to look up the Menstrual Equity for All Act and push your federal representatives to support it whenever they can. I think the other things that are important and I could certainly go state by state on this, or you know, any of our listeners can go look some of this up, but there are some bills pending in Maryland and Florida. The Learning with Dignity Act is a big deal that would require Florida schools to provide free menstrual products in at least half the restrooms, which is awesome. We talked about the Menstrual Equity for All Act in California, which is a big deal. We also had a bill passed last year in California called the Right to Know Act, which is about more transparency in ingredients and menstrual products.

Kassia Binkowski
Which is like a whole other conversation, but critically important.

Michela Bedard
Totally, and also all part of that education. We have to understand what we're putting in our bodies when we're trying to take care of our periods. There's others in New York, there's others in Arkansas. So we are seeing this as a bit of a tipping point where we have more legislators introducing these bills. And we're really excited about that for this year. But more than that, we are excited for the culture shifts. We're excited to have the New York Times and The Washington Post talk about this more and more, which they've done even in the past few weeks,

Kassia Binkowski
Which is huge. Michela, what do you want every young menstruator to know? If you got to be the one having that awkward conversation, if you got to be standing in every health education classroom, what would be the one thing you would want them to walk away with?

Michela Bedard
I would want them to understand that it is no big deal, that it is just part of your life. And it's what's going to happen to about a quarter of your life for the next 30 or so years, and to not have any embarrassment about it. And if anyone around you makes you feel ashamed, or gives you a lack of dignity for feeling it, then they are someone that needs to be educated about menstruation. It is not a big deal. Let's talk about it. And let's talk about how it's hard, let's talk about how for some people, it's easy. Let's talk about it. And when you don't have product, ask for it loud and proud the way that any of us would ask for toilet paper if we didn't have it. So I want to tell people that it's not something to be whispered about. It's not some secret to be passed down from menstruator to menstruator. We're here to give each other tips, but we're mostly here to just normalize. That's the biggest thing.

Sabrina Merage Naim
Breaking Glass is a production of Evoke Media. Evoke is a nonprofit organization that exists in order to elevate the people and stories that are working to make the world a more unified and equitable place. Learn more at weareevokemedia.com

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