The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more difficult for low-income people to access healthcare necessities, including menstrual products. Despite the logistical difficulties posed by the virtual semester, student leaders at Period@Penn said they are inspired to intensify their fight against period poverty.
This semester, Period@Penn, a club that works to increase education about and accessibility of menstrual products, launched a virtual speaker series to educate the Penn community on the urgency of providing all menstruators with access to the necessary supplies. The club has continued to provide homeless shelters in Philadelphia with menstrual hygiene products, which they deliver monthly.
Period poverty refers to the inability to afford necessary menstrual products or education. About 47% of people who menstruate have found it harder to access menstrual products during the pandemic, since many organizations like schools and public facilities that may provide free menstrual products have closed in response to the virus. Nonprofit organizations that distribute menstrual products are hit with increased need nationwide, including in Philadelphia, where the No More Secrets organization's distribution has more than doubled.
Period@Penn was co-founded in 2017 by 2020 College and Wharton graduate Anna Schmitt and 2020 College graduate Jana Krien, who were concerned about the consequences faced by menstruators in West Philadelphia who could not afford menstrual hygiene products.
The club was founded to distribute the necessary products to menstruators in need, lead discussions and educational workshops to dismantle the stigma associated with menstruation, and fight for systemic change towards menstrual equity in the Philadelphia area and beyond.
College and Wharton junior Samidha Sane, the president of Period@Penn, said that since the pandemic began, the demand for menstrual hygiene products in Philadelphia's homeless shelters has increased.
Sane said that Period@Penn plans to propose legislation to the Philadelphia City Council this semester. The legislation would provide dispensaries with menstrual hygiene products in all public restrooms.
College sophomore Michele Anzabi, the head of fundraising for Period@Penn, said the club has been able to continue delivering monthly supplies to the homeless shelters it partners with by using leftover supplies and funds from last semester. Anzabi said that last semester, the club was able to collect 1,190 individual products and $150 in donations.
This semester, Period@Penn has also focused on educating the Penn community about the urgency of period poverty through a new speaker series.
Judy Elzey, the director of the Cedar Park homeless residential facility in Philadelphia, spoke at Period@Penn's first event of the semester on Sept. 30. During the event, Elzey emphasized the importance of recognizing menstrual hygiene products as basic necessities.
She explained that homeless shelters rarely get donations of menstrual hygiene products because most people are unaware that these necessary items are so expensive. Consequently, although many homeless shelters distribute hygiene packets, these do not typically include menstrual products.
Elzey emphasized how important Period@Penn's donations are to Cedar Park. Every menstruator's hygiene packet at Cedar Park contains ten menstrual hygiene items.
Sane hopes that hearing Elzey speak helped increased awareness of period poverty among the Penn students who attended the event.
"Period poverty often goes unaddressed because most people are not aware it is even an issue," she said. "Once they realize what is going on, most people are very receptive to our work."
Moving forward, Period@Penn plans to hold workshops with high school students in order to confront the stigma attached to menstruation from an early age.
"We hope they will bring the conversation home with them, so we can raise awareness among entire communities," Sane said.