Black Menstrual Equity Advocates You Should Know
Black History Month is a time of learning and celebration.
While learning about Black history, the struggles that Black people have faced, and commitments to being anti-racist should span the entire calendar year, Black History Month is a great time to learn, celebrate, engage with Black history, media, and to have some important conversations.
In 1926, Carter G. Woodson, the “Father of Black History,” created Black History Week, with the goal of starting conversations about the Black experience. Woodson chose February as the month to celebrate this week because Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two important figures in the abolishment of slavery, were born in this month.
Throughout the 1960s Black History Week gained popularity and expanded into a month-long celebration, thanks to the hard work of those involved in the civil rights movement.
In 1976, US President Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month and encouraged the American people to take part. In 1986, US Congress officially passed Black History Month into law. Canada followed, by officially recognizing February as Black History Month in 1995.
Every year, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) designates a theme for the year. The 2022 ASALH theme is Black Health and Wellness. In honour of this theme, this blog post will be highlighting some amazing Black changemakers in the menstrual equity space. For those who menstruate, the discussion surrounding health and well-being must include menstruation, as well as the ability to menstruate in a safe, hygienic, and dignified way.
Continue reading below to see what these amazing Black visionaries are working on:
In 2015, Chelsea VonChaz saw a homeless woman with a period stain on her pants walking down the street. Upon discovering that shelters were not required to provide residents with menstrual supplies, she decided to take action by assembling and distributing period kits in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles.
And so, #happyperiod was born. VonChaz’s mission is to provide menstrual products to those in need and to change perspectives on menstruation. Since 2015, #happyperiod has expanded to 18 cities in the United States, where VonChaz provides educational workshops and menstrual kits. In 2019, she created the first ever Period Protection Equipment machine, which dispenses free menstrual products in community centers, with the hope of expanding into schools and other public spaces.
As Black folx struggle more with period poverty than other groups, #happyperiod centers Black folx in their work. VonChaz is working to bring more education and awareness to the experiences of Black menstruators. As the menstrual equity space is predominantly white, VonChaz believes that it is imperative to include Black folx in the arena - and in leadership positions - to positively impact Black menstruators.
In 2012, Lynnette Medley, and her daughter Nya McGlone, co-founded No More Secrets, an organization dedicated to putting an end to reproductive and menstrual health disparities for underserved and marginalized communities. Through the provision of resources, educational tools and outreach, Medley and her daughter have been able to help marginalized menstruators in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia and beyond.
Through the #blackgirlsbleed campaign, Medley and McGlone bring awareness to the systemic racism that exists in the menstrual health and menstrual equity movements and work to decrease menstrual stigma in Black communities.
In 2019, Medley and McGlone opened up the first menstrual hub in the United States. The SPOT, which stands for Safety Programming for Optimal Transformation, provides menstruators in need with access to supplies, the internet, educational resources, and clean water and toilets. One of the most special features of The SPOT is the Breonna Taylor Room, a space for marginalized women where they may feel safe in an unsafe world.
In 2017, Lamanda Ballard founded Flo Code to change the narrative surrounding menstruation and to provide menstrual products to Texans in need. While Ballard initially began by helping some local shelters, her work has expanded to serve several shelters, organizations, and over 90 schools in the central Texas area. To date, Flo Code has donated over 650 000 products to those in need. Education and awareness are core components of Flo Code’s work as they strive to eradicate menstrual stigma.
Yanique Brandford was born and raised in Jamaica, where menstrual supplies were considered luxury items. After her family covered their monthly expenses, they could not afford menstrual products and Brandford had to make do with other materials to manage her flow. When Brandford moved to Canada, she noticed that period poverty existed in Toronto and across the world.
So, she founded Help a Girl Out in 2018. Since its inception, Help a Girl Out has provided thousands of menstrual products to menstruators in Canada and across the world. HAGO focuses on community and being a safe space for menstruators who face shame and stigma from family members. HAGO prioritizes diversity in their work and encourages diversity in all conversations surrounding period poverty and menstrual equity. Brandford works to provide products and education to everyone in need, regardless of geography, faith, or lived experience, and works based on the principles of empathy and people-first connections.
Lena Vann is a college student who grew up attending low-income schools and recognized the need for additional support for youth in low-income areas. So, she founded the Black Period Project to ensure that young black menstruators have access to the products that they need. BPP is involved in menstruation education and works to advocate for legislative change.
Here is what Lena Vann has to say about her work and the menstrual equity movement as a whole:
What inspired you to get involved in the menstrual equity movement?
The work that Black Period Project does is a lived experience for me and many people that look like me. Even at 19 years old, I knew it was my responsibility to pour back into the community that raised me and uplift others, just as I was. My calling just happened to be about menstrual equity. It was a space of intersectionalism that didn’t have black/brown menstruators at the forefront of advocacy. Being a black woman, supporting the black community is personal to me. Black Period(t). Project is passionate about promoting transparency through educational resources, celebrations, community service, and learning opportunities about menstruation.
Please describe your work/your organization’s work.
Black Period(t). Project is a small non-profit youth-led organization working to eliminate gaps in access to menstrual hygiene supplies and education for black menstruators across the Southeast U.S. (this includes girls, women and +trans-men). I, along with 30 other students, develop, lead, and implement the activities and initiatives that align with our organization's purpose. Black Period(t). Project works with multiple student-led and youth-led organizations across North Carolina to educate and implement change for menstrual equity in the black community. We provide hygiene kits (include pads and/or tampons, liners, wipes, and a resource card if someone needs more help) for youth centers, Title I schools, and homeless shelters. We work with mentoring organizations to create age-appropriate menstruation education and empowerment curriculum. I have been working to implement change on my University Campus as well. I would love to establish a menstrual hygiene supply closet before I graduate. We also just launched our newest initiative “The Black Men Coalition”, a group of black male-identifying youth who are dedicated to spreading awareness about period poverty, educate men on menstrual hygiene and its importance and combat the taboo of menstrual health and hygiene amongst the male population.
What changes have you seen in your time as a menstrual equity changemaker?
As a business student, the first major change I noticed was in branding and marketing around menstrual equity. The popularity and reduced stigma around periods in popular media. Major brands like Kotex and Tampax branding narrative has completely changed. This shift in narrative, which was broadcasted and received by the masses, created an environment that is safer and more receptive to discuss periods. These same brands also took an interest in the menstrual equity space, completely changing the playing field. Now there are resources that used to only serve these major corporations are now available to grassroot organizations.
From the perspective of a black woman, I have seen a push for inclusion of black women in the menstrual equity space. We could chalk it up to more exposure of BPP as it’s grown naturally, but the amount of attention and interest in the organization and our efforts have increased tremendously in the last year.
What gaps still exist in the menstrual equity movement?
While black women and menstruators are finally being welcomed and more involved in the mainstream menstrual equity movement; the disparity of access to menstrual hygiene education and resources still exist between black menstruators and their non-black counterparts. There is still a gap in access that exists due period poverty being an unrecognized public health crisis in a country with a long history and continual perpetuating disregard of the health and wellness of black bodies.
What are some changes you hope to see relating to menstrual equity in the future?
Elimination of the pink tax
Implementation of free menstrual hygiene products in schools, especially Title I schools that serve a primarily black/brown community
More space and respect for black menstruators to speak up and advocate about intersectional issues that relate to health and reproductive justice.
Last but not least,
It is important to recognize the woman who invented the menstrual pad,
Born in 1912 in North Carolina, Kenner was brought up in a time where the work of Black and other marginalized individuals was swept under the rug and never acknowledged. She was born into a family of inventors and began creating at the age of six. Kenner was incredibly bright, earning admission to Howard University, but eventually dropping out because she was unable to afford tuition. She spent years working a variety of jobs and dedicated her spare time to inventing different products. In the 1920s, tampons existed but those who used them were subjected to stigma, and women resorted to using other products to manage their periods. In response to the impractical nature of those products, Kenner created the very first sanitary belt. This interested a marketing company, but they pulled back upon discovering
that she was Black. In 1956, Kenner filed a patent for the sanitary belt and production began on her invention, thereby changing how menstruators managed their cycles for the better.