Menstrual periods are normal, yet there is a stigma around talking about them and the financial stress they may cause.
Medha Maroju, a Novi High School junior, hopes to help end period poverty with the Carefree Campaign, which she launched this fall with classmates Vaishnavi Jagalur and Varnika Chandra.
Among their goals: make pads and tampons free and accessible in schools and add their voices to an increasingly louder call for removal of the tax on menstrual hygiene products.
“I think the biggest thing is educating people on it, because a lot of people don’t understand the severity of period poverty,” Maroju said. “They just expect it in major cities where there are a lot of poor people, but it can also exist in suburbs. We’re trying to increase access to period products for everybody, regardless of income.”
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Maroju began researching the topic in September as part of a Future Health Professionals competition to bring community awareness to a health issue.
They soon learned some startling facts, including that 20% of menstruating teens in the U.S. have missed school because they don’t have access to hygiene products, and 61% have worn a pad or tampon for more than four hours because they didn’t have sufficient access to these items, subjecting themselves to a higher risk of infection and toxic shock syndrome.
Maroju and her fellow campaigners surveyed students and community members in Novi on the stigmatizing subject and found the majority of respondents are uncomfortable talking about it and also learned some have experienced not having products available to them in school.
They then reached out to legislators, connecting with Kelly Stec, legislative director for Rep. Kevin Hertel. Stec is also an advocacy director for the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health and is working with the Carefree Campaign on the same issue. She will be participating in a Zoom panel on the subject of period poverty hosted by the Carefree Campaign 1-2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 6. The Meeting ID is 910 2520 7698. Passcode: period.
“The young women of the Carefree Campaign are incredible and working on broader things like getting rid of the tax on menstrual hygiene products and treating those like the medical necessities they are,” Stec said. “One of the things we see is that youth in school don’t have access to the healthcare things they need and period products are one part of a much larger problem in that regard.”
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Stec supports a removal of the tax on period products and free access to these products in school. While offering a disclaimer that her views don’t necessarily reflect the legislator’s office for whom she works, Stec said Hertel does support bringing attention to the issue.
She said there are current bills being considered in the state legislature regarding sales tax on menstrual hygiene products, adding that this is an issue that has been discussed by state legislators for at least the last four years.
There are at least 10 states that do not have a “pink tax,” as the levy on menstrual hygiene products is often called.
Providing free and readily accessible pads and tampons in schools is a separate issue that needs funding and will also likely be a long time coming, as Stec notes Lansing is a “slow-moving ship” and the problem is exacerbated by a legislature that is mostly older males who have neither dealt with poverty in general nor period poverty specifically.
The scope of the problem is also unknown and could be helped, she suggested, by a pilot program in some schools in order to see where adjustments need to be made.
“Discussions about education funding are always going to be a battle, but schools aren’t succeeding if our students aren’t healthy and safe,” she said.
Maroju noted that Scotland recently made period products free for its citizens, something she would like to see happen here, as well as in other countries. For now, she hopes the tax on such products can at least be abolished here, as they are basic necessities, not a luxury item. She plans to continue with the Carefree Campaign well past the end of the competition, too, including a collection drive for menstrual hygiene products to distribute to those in need.
The campaign wan be found on Instagram @carefree.campaign.
Check out the Podcast: https://open.spotify.com/show/46vPvhUdRdpc8AeFm7NFkP
To learn more on how you can help, email [email protected]