Denmark High School seniors Veda Nune and Mounica Katragadda walked into one of the school’s restrooms one day to find something new sitting on the counter near the sinks: a little basket that students had started to put a few pads and tampons in for others to use.
They began to notice the baskets in restrooms all throughout the school and put a pad or two in them when they could. Then, they noticed when they came back to the restroom just a couple of days later, the pads had disappeared.
The two girls have always had access to menstrual products and would have never thought, especially in an affluent area such as Forsyth County, that so many girls would need to take advantage of the baskets.
“We wanted to understand what was happening, so we did our own research and that was when we learned about period poverty,” Nune said.
Period poverty, experienced by millions globally, is a lack of access to menstrual products. In their research, Nune and Katragadda learned that, for some, the poverty gap can lead to missed school or work. The two girls started looking for ways to help.
They landed on creating the #FullStop campaign aimed at reducing period poverty in metro Atlanta through donations, education and advocacy, and partnered with area nonprofits to help come up with four targets for the campaign.
They wanted to collect menstrual products for those in need, collect donations for a local organization, raise awareness of the issue by holding local seminars and advocate for change in state legislation.
Partnering for periods
One of the organizations that Nune and Katragadda partnered with, the Homeless Period Project Atlanta, helps to collect menstrual products for homeless women and girls in the area. Oftentimes, when those experiencing homelessness do not have access to these products, they report having to use them longer than recommended or improvise with other items such as paper towels or newspapers, which can cause infection, according to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The two girls began a sanitation drive at the school, letting other students know about the struggles homeless women face and asking them to donate any menstrual products they could for the project. At the end of the drive, they collected more than 400 pads and 200 tampons.
They also reached out to Kathy Warner, founder of the Days for Girls Cumming location, a nonprofit that makes and ships reusable pads to those who need them, to begin raising monetary donations for the organization.
“I was flabbergasted,” Warner said. “I was literally blown away.”
Warner also belongs to Altrusa of North Georgia, a nonprofit that partners with other organizations in the area to provide needed donations and volunteers. The group started supporting Days for Girls in 2017 before she had started her own chapter in Cumming just last year.
The original founder, who worked in countries in West Africa on mission trips, sought to find out how women in those areas dealt with their periods, and Warner said she quickly found her answer — they don’t.
“They sit on cardboard until their period is over,” Warner said. “Women and girls don’t go to work. They don’t go to school. They just sit there and wait for the end of it. And sometimes they don’t even get fed if somebody doesn’t come and bring them food.”
The organization started as a way to gather and create reusable pads and other products that these women and girls can use during their menstrual cycle. Now, Days for Girls sends handmade bags to those who need them filled with several products.
The bags include: two shields that attach to underwear and hold the reusable pads, eight pads, a transport bag, two pairs of underwear, a washcloth and a piece of soap. The bags are all hand-sewn by volunteers and are meant to last three to five years.
Because of the contents, each bag costs about $10 to make, so Warner said the girls’ help in raising money has helped the organization considerably, especially as they have not had any fundraising opportunities due to the pandemic.
Nune and Katragadda began a GoFundMe for Days for Girls, linked to the campaign’s Instagram account, to help raise money, and they have collected nearly $500 so far.
Let’s talk about the tampon tax
As part of the campaign, the Denmark students have also started to collect signatures on a Change.org petition, which asks for support in repealing the tampon tax in Georgia.
While called the “tampon tax,” the charge is a 4% tax on all menstrual products. Activists and lawmakers alike have worked to repeal the tax in recent years, but 30 states still have the tax in place, including in Georgia. Usually, states do not tax “non-luxury” items such as food and medicine.
“The fact that people are profiting off of our periods is something that I think is very wrong in the first place,” Nune said. “I don’t think people should have to choose between, ‘Should I allocate my spending on putting food on the table for my kids or putting food on the table for me versus getting the supplies necessary for me to go to school or go to work?’”
The report by the ACLU confirms that the poverty gap, now exacerbated by the global pandemic, has caused 1 in 5 American girls to miss out on educational opportunities, which Nune and Katragadda worried could also lead to a gender disparity in education.
Katragadda explained that they created the petition not only to pressure lawmakers to repeal the tax, but also to get those in the community thinking about these issues.
“The main point of the petition, more than sending it to legislators, is to stir up the idea that we shouldn’t have a tax on [these products],” Katragadda said. “This is a necessity, not a luxury. We’re trying to stir up that thought in people when they sign this petition so then, in the future when they’re voting on things like this, then they .... remember learning about that.”
While many have not signed the petition, it is still available to sign through a link on the #FullStop campaign’s Instagram page.
‘Talking about periods’
As part of one of the final targets for the campaign, Nune and Ketragadda have worked to educate more in the community about period poverty and its impact. They recently held a seminar with their FBLA group at school where they invited Warner to speak about Days for Girls and its mission.
They also shared how they got involved in learning more about and helping to reduce period poverty in the U.S. and across the world.
Nune and Katragadda agreed that a huge part of trying to spread awareness and make change is breaking the stigma that surrounds menstruation.
“I remember in school once, my period started and I didn’t have a pad with me, so I asked my friend [for a pad.] She bent down and said, ‘Wait, how do I get this to your hand?’” Katragadda said. “She was scared to even show it for that brief second [for her] to put it in my hand. So I bent down and pulled out my sleeve and [told her to tuck it in.]”
“Back then, I didn’t think it was a big deal because I was like, this is just how it is, but now thinking back, that’s the craziest thing,” she said. “Why do I need to hide that? I think it’s so crazy that we’re that sheltered to the idea of talking about periods.”
Nune pointed out that many women who do not struggle with access to menstrual products don’t know about the issue. Without the stigma surrounding periods, she said those who are not as fortunate may be more willing to come forward.
“Proper sanitation should be a basic right,” Nune said. “The fact that it’s blown over mostly because it has to do with menstruation that people feel uncomfortable to talk about it, I think we could do a lot better as a country and as a community.”
‘Make a change’
While Nune and Katragadda have met their original goals for the #FullStop campaign, they said they want to continue with it for as long as they can.
They have also partnered with the HOSA student group at Denmark to collect donations for the Homeless Period Project, and they hope the group will continue with the donations even after they graduate.
Nune and Katragadda also hope that more and more students will continue to learn more about period poverty, learning from peers instead of by chance through baskets in the school’s bathroom.
“It has to be talked about if you want to make a change,” Nune said.