Several Arkansas groups and individual activists are working to raise awareness for period poverty through education, advocacy and fundraising efforts.
Period poverty refers to the lack of access to menstruation education, hygiene facilities or essential menstruation products like pads and tampons, according to the American Medical Women’s Association. One-fifth of teenagers nationwide have struggled to afford period products, according to a survey conducted by PERIOD and Thinx. Additionally, 79% of teenagers reported wishing they had a more in-depth education about menstrual health.
Christine Dillard, president of Arkansas Women’s Outreach, said her organization provides period packs, which contain tampons, pads and panty-liners, to shelters, food pantries and churches in Central Arkansas. For these women, having access to these packs means they can go to work, send their daughters to school and not have to spend money that they need for food on period supplies.
“What we’re doing is a small step in a small area, but for the women that we help it makes a huge difference,” Dillard said.
Lauren Grace Perry, 18, a Little Rock resident, organized a period product drive in May 2020, where she asked community members to donate items like tampons, pads, disposable underwear and baby wipes for AWO.
In addition to organizing donations, Perry has worked to raise awareness and fundraise for period poverty through social media. She manages a clothing website called Duo, which features t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies and hats where Perry donates 30% of her proceeds to period poverty organizations.
“Selling my Duo merch and being able to give back those proceeds to a period poverty organization every month has been so awesome,” Perry said. “It’s just a great way for people to learn what period poverty is.”
Joelle Fahoum, president of the Arkansas Period Poverty Project, said she became interested in period poverty after traveling with her debate team to many different high schools. Fahoum noticed that most of the schools did not have products available in their bathrooms for students who might need them.
Fahoum’s organization focuses on donating items to schools in Central Arkansas as well as educating the public on the impacts of period poverty. The organization spreads information about the menstrual cycle and women’s health through social media and by interviewing doctors and activists from other organizations, she said.
“Most people don’t know about period poverty, so they don’t know how to address it or what it means,” Fahoum said. “There is a stigma around periods and menstrual cycles that people don’t want to address, because of the public idea that it could be considered gross.”
As activists work to address the stigma surrounding periods, members of the Arkansas legislature have introduced multiple bills to work against period poverty. The Arkansas Period Poverty Project worked closely with Rep. Denise Ennett (D-36) to help introduce the HB1611 bill, which would allow schools to allocate funds toward the provision of menstrual products. Fahoum said.
Another bill recently introduced to the Arkansas legislature, titled HB1065, would exempt menstrual hygiene products from sales tax. Arkansas is one of thirty states that still has a tax on tampons and pads, according to Period Equity.
Perry said she is proud of state legislators for introducing the bill, because Arkansas would be among the first half of states to abandon the tampon tax if the bill were to pass. She said she thinks the bill would help a large number of low-income women in Arkansas and is a big step forward for gender equality.
Since AWO is a non-profit organization, they are not allowed to lobby on any legislation. However, Dillard said she is glad the Arkansas Period Project has been working to push the bill forward because she thinks the bill would make a big difference to people living in poverty.
“(Period poverty) is something that affects everyone, not just women,” Dillard said. “We think about it as a women’s issue, but when women can’t go to work or go to school, everyone suffers, not just women.”