Local student combats period poverty
By Ashourina Slewo
When her mother asked her what she wanted for her birthday, Ashley Rapp could not think of one thing she truly needed – she is fortunate enough to have access to everything she could possibly need. Instead, she thought of those all around her who were not as fortunate.
From this thought, an idea was born. She would use her birthday to solicit the donations of menstrual hygiene products. Through I Support the Girls – Detroit (ISTG), Rapp organized a donation drive.
Started in Maryland, ISTG collects and distributes menstrual hygiene products and new and used bras to homeless women and girls nationally and internationally. The organization believes women and girls should never have to compromise on dignity, whether they’re homeless, refugees, or fleeing from domestic violence.
“I remember my mom, Basma Rapp (Barash), asking me what I wanted for my birthday. I usually have a whole list of things I would ask for, but this year I realized that getting things for my birthday wouldn’t make me happy,” said Rapp.
She explained that while she has access to everything she needs, this is not the case for others. “I knew that using my birthday as a way to collect menstrual hygiene products would be perfect because if people were already planning on buying me a present, they might as well get something that would truly help people.”
Having never worried about having access to hygiene products, it came as an eye opener to the University of Michigan student, that women here in the United States are dealing with period poverty. Period poverty is the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products because of financial limitations.
Rapp first became aware of the issue when she came across an article about period poverty on Facebook.
“I remember reading about people who had to make the choice of buying food to put on the table instead of getting pads or tampons. I had no idea that this was a common phenomenon, let alone in the U.S.,” she said. “Once my eyes were opened, I became obsessed. I read about menstruators who substituted items like paper towel, socks, and even paper bags for tampons. I couldn’t believe it.”
While this is not Rapp’s first product drive, it is the first one she has organized through ISTG. “I have held a product drive before actually. Along with some of my college classmates, we held a menstrual hygiene product drive for Grand Rapids/Muskegon area schools,” said Rapp.
For these product drives, Rapp and her classmates had a network of contacts that knew which schools, shelters, etc. in the area needed products. Since moving back to Sterling Heights, though, she has looked to ISTG to distribute the products.
“Luckily, ISTG was in contact with local teachers and social workers that were able to identify and take the products to people who needed them. In particular, Detroit middle schools and high schools were in need,” explained Rapp. “… they were a good resource in helping to get the products to the people in the area that needed them.”
Unlike her previous drives, Rapp employed social media and general word of mouth to bring in the donations – paired with an Amazon wish list to make donating as seamless a process as possible.
“Since a lot of people do their shopping online and have Amazon accounts, it made it easy for them to go on the Amazon wish list that I had set up with quantities of pads and tampons, add items to their cart, and once they bought them, they were shipped to my house,” explained Rapp. “I also had a lot of people reach out to me via Facebook, and so I met with so many great people that gave me products directly. One woman even filled up the backseat of my car with products!”
In the few short weeks leading up to her birthday, Rapp was able to collect 3,067 menstrual hygiene products. This translates to more than 200 periods served.
Menstrual equity, says Rapp, is imperative as more than half the population menstruates. “…yet period products are somehow still taxed as a luxury item. When people cannot access products that are essential to their hygiene, something is wrong. Most food stamp programs don’t even include period products, which makes it even more difficult for people to access the products they need. This all feeds into the issues of gender equality and minimizing the effects of poverty.”
Focusing on the Chaldean community, Rapp believes the rhetoric must change. While many shy away from talking about menstruation, she believes normalizing the fact that more than half the population menstruates and talking about periods will help to fight the stigma and inequality.
“Our community is no stranger to struggles and hard times. We haven’t had the opportunities or things in our lives handed to us. We understand that as a human family, we have to take care of each other,” said Rapp. “People are uncomfortable talking about periods even though half of our population menstruates. Periods shouldn’t be a shameful thing, and needing help getting things like pads and tampons should not be embarrassing. It’s the same as people needing food from a food pantry.”
Combatting the stigma and inequality starts with changing the conversation.
“It’s easy to get involved in the menstrual movement! Make sure your family and friends talk about menstruation openly. Donate pads and tampons to shelters, or even start a drive yourself,” explained Rapp.