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We’ve all been there. A stain on your pants at the worst moment. Awkward conversations with family members when you get your period for the first time. Cringeworthy pleas with your teacher to get the bathroom pass in the middle of class. Stranded in a public place with no period products in sight. Many of us (all of us?) have an embarrassing period story to share.

But what if instead of embarrassment we felt empowerment? Menstruation is a basic bodily function — an experience shared by half of the world’s population. Yet periods are still surrounded by intense stigma, leading to anxiety, confusion, and shame.

It is past time for this to change, and each one of us can help change the conversation around periods and take action for period equity.

Prioritize Periods, a project of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, seeks to increase and improve access to free and quality period products for all West Virginians through community organizing, partnerships, and legislation, and change the conversation around menstruation everywhere.

On Tuesday, March 2, Planned Parenthood South Atlantic hosted a Menstrual Equity Lobby Day to talk about period stigma in West Virginia and connect folks with state lawmakers.

What is period equity?

The idea that everyone, regardless of their identity or status in life, deserves access to affordable and safe period products without gender or hygiene-based stigmas. 

Period equity means that everyone who has a period:

  • Has access to affordable and quality products that are safe for our bodies and the environment

  • Feels empowered to talk freely about their period without fear of stigma or shame 

  • Doesn’t miss out on life experiences, including school or work, because of a period

  • Doesn’t have to use unsafe “makeshift” products or reuse single-use products (like pads and tampons) because they cannot afford safe products

What is Prioritize Periods working on in West Virginia?

A large component of our work with Prioritize Periods is ensuring our state laws reflect the need for menstrual equity in West Virginia. Reproductive health champions in West Virginia have introduced several bills to advance period equity in the state. 

HB 2564/SB 287: Free period products for students in schools: Students shouldn’t have to sacrifice educational opportunities because they don’t have access to period products.This piece of legislation would ensure that free period products like pads and tampons are available to any student who needs one, ensuring students with periods don’t miss out on school during their period.

Increased access to products in jails, prisons, and detention centers: Currently, people who are incarcerated have access to pads, but not tampons. Higher quality products are available for purchase, but at a higher cost. People should be able to use the period product that best fits their needs. This bill would require that a wide variety of quality period products are available in jails and prisons at no cost.

SB 291: Tax-free period products: Period products are necessities, not luxuries. State lawmakers can and should make period products more affordable by removing the sales tax on them — just as they have done for food and other basic necessities. 

HB 2731/SB 402: Companies should disclose ingredients on period products: Harmful chemicals — including ingredients that have been linked to cancer, hormonal changes, and allergic reactions —  are often included in products used to manage a menstrual cycle. People have a right to know what they are using in and on their bodies that can impact their overall health. People with periods also have a right to know the greater environmental impact of the products they are consuming. Ingredient transparency ensures West Virginians with periods are informed consumers.

Prioritize Periods is committed to working with champions in the legislature to introduce these bills and additional legislation addressing period equity until all West Virginians have the access they need. For more information on our current legislation, check out our Legislative Updates page.

Community partners

We can’t do any of this work alone. We are proud to partner with many organizations and groups throughout West Virginia, including

  • Healthy Start HAPI Project

  • SOAR

  • PATCH Coalition of Taylor County

  • Southern West Virginia Harm Redux

  • WVU Libraries’ Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

  • Period Positivity Project

  • And more!

Through our partnerships and the Prioritize Periods campaign, we have already been able to launch some special projects, including “Menstrual Equity for Mommas” with the Healthy Start HAPI project, along with a larger effort to educate and distribute menstrual cups (a longer-term, environmentally friendly, and cost-saving solution to the financial burden of period products) across West Virginia. In the last few months of 2020, we distributed more than 50 menstrual cups across the state. Our goal is to distribute 250 cups in 2021!

We are always looking for more community partners, volunteers, and project collaborators! If you wish to join us or partner on our period equity work, feel free to contact me at [email protected].

Every person deserves access to period products regardless of age, gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation, or income. With Prioritize Periods, it is our hope that we can work toward period equity in our community and beyond.

Tags: menstruation, period, equity

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