Menstrual equity refers to idea that all people who menstruate should have equal access to menstrual products, regardless of financial constrains or marginalization.
Have you ever thought about how much you spend on menstrual supplies over the course of a year? Over the course of 10 years? Yes, that seven to ten dollars spent on pads or tampons each month feels gouging indeed — especially for a products that are basic necessities.
But what would you do if you got your period while experiencing homelessness? How would you afford the cost of menstrual products? Where would you go to take a hot bath? How would you access medication for menstrual cramps and pain?
Jana Girdauskas began to ask herself these same questions after she encountered a woman experiencing homelessness and didn't have any items to give her. Compelled to provide menstrual and wellness products to those in need, Jana founded The Period Purse (TPP) — a volunteer-run non-profit organization that works to establish menstrual equity by providing purses filled with period products to hundreds of people who menstruate in Toronto.
We sat down with Jana to talk about the issue of period poverty in our community and what different groups can begin to do to help establish menstrual equity.
Winslow: Tell us a bit about The Period Purse and what it does as an organization.
Jana: The Period Purse strives to achieve menstrual equity by providing marginalized menstruators with access to free menstrual products and to reduce the stigma surrounding periods through public education and advocacy. Our vision is for all menstruators to experience healthy periods with dignity.
The Period Purse launched in February 2017 with the goal of making one purse. Today, the organization has handed out over 8,700 purses and 7,800 refill period packs, each containing period products, comforting items and a motivational note. The Period Purse seeks to provide individuals experiencing homelessness with a much-needed emotional boost.
W: What inspired you to build an initiative around providing people who are experiencing poverty or homelessness with period products, instead of food or clothing?
J: It was a huge aha moment when I wondered what people experiencing homelessness do on their periods! I wanted to support something that was a natural and normal process of our bodies. There are so many other great charities that support the marginalized communities with food and clothing and we are so happy to fill the gap by bringing menstrual products to those who need it.
W: The Period Purse strives to achieve menstrual equity. Is this a concept you think most people in the GTA are familiar with?
J: Menstrual equity is a new term coined in the United States by an amazing period advocate. I feel it's not a concept that is known or understood here in Toronto, since many other people haven't thought about or realized the situation. The more we talk about it, think about it, and do something about it, the more it will be highlighted and understood!
W: How has the conversation surrounding period poverty and menstrual equity changed since you first started Period Purse?
J: We have seen how The Period Purse has inspired so many other people and groups to run drives in their communities and circles of friends. Some people are wanting change in their city and in their schools, and it's so wonderful that when The Period Purse gets attention and people talk about it, it spreads to other people and places. I also love that more media outlets are becoming more comfortable with talking about periods, either on the evening news or on a breakfast show. That is showing that our work is happening, and we ARE reducing the stigma around menstruation!
W: In your opinion, what can corporations and government do to help address this issue?
J: I think just starting the conversation around why we don't cover this, why it isn't free, and what barriers it creates for so many people. Some menstruators in marginalized communities are using homemade products, some people are missing work and job interviews, and so many girls aren't going to school due to the lack of period supplies. When people don't realize these realities, it's hard for them to talk about it and do something about it. I hope that with raising our voices, we will have more and more companies provide free products in the bathroom in their work places and governments supporting the shelters and centres that support the marginalized communities.
W: The work you do must feel so rewarding, especially when you're able to witness first-hand the impact of your organization. Can you share with us the most rewarding moment or experience you have had since launching Period Purse?
J: I love hearing directly from the people who have gotten our purses and products. It makes me cry to hear that one lady is so proud to carry our period products in her backpack so she can help out her friends. I love hearing how one woman got a lovely gift from us when she first arrived at the shelter after fleeing an abusive relationship. One woman told me recently that she no longer gets infections since she doesn't have to use newspapers. All of these simple stories are the meaningful reason that me and the TPP team of volunteers continue to work hard and give free access to menstrual products to help menstrual health.
W: What has been the community's overall response to Period Purse and the work that you and your team do?
J: We love hearing all the positive messages back from the community about TPP. Again, it's an area where no one else is supporting, talking about, or doing something about. They congratulate us on filling a huge and necessary gap. Our ability to bring dignity to women and trans men during their periods is a huge thing to help menstrual health. To be able to give someone real period products versus having to use newspaper and get an infection is worth everything to us.
You can learn more about The Period Purse and support people who menstruate in Toronto here.