This letter features reporting from "Kashmir’s Tribal Women Suffer Very Poor Menstrual Health. What’s To Blame?" by Shefali Rafiq and Saqib Mugloo, a Pulitzer Center reporting project
Dear Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton,
Period poverty is the lack of access to menstrual education and hygiene products, and it is a global issue. According to an article written by Saqib Mugloo and Shefali Rafiq, 96% of girls in the Gujjar tribal community poorly manage their menstruation cycles and are at risk for vaginal infections. In Kashmir, people are also at risk for vaginal infections and infertility due to the lack of menstrual hygiene products, leading people to use unsanitary cloths that they clean using only water. Additionally, a single period pad costs about 50 Indian rupees. This makes it difficult for people to safely manage their cycles in an affordable way without contracting infections. Moreover, there are taboos within this community regarding periods and period hygiene. For example, women cannot bathe while menstruating, which plays a major role in causing serious infections, and some believe that looking in a mirror will cause a skin infection. About 1.8 billion people worldwide menstruate, and one would think that this common health cycle would unite them, but because of the lack of menstrual education, some people shy away from talking about it. The issue of period poverty cannot continue to be kept out of the spotlight.
Every day, I am grateful to walk into my school’s bathrooms that are always fully stocked with free pads and tampons. In my own bathroom at home, I have a drawer full of menstrual products that are worth 2,000 rupees. During my freshman and sophomore years of high school, my grade was required to take a co-ed health class. We had several educational discussions about female and male anatomy and menstruation cycles. Everyone in my class, regardless of gender, learned to become comfortable with talking about periods and sex. Because of this course, I learned how to properly manage my cycles and prevent infections by changing out my pad or tampon several times per day. This means that I get to use four clean, unused tampons per day during my cycle, but this is certainly not the case for other people across the globe.
I’m not asking you to find an immediate way to solve period poverty in India, but I am asking you to reflect on menstrual equity in the District of Columbia. Start by ensuring that all schools have free menstrual supplies in bathrooms, and students are taking a health education class in school. What about people experiencing homelessness? Make supplies free so that anybody, regardless of socioeconomic status, can walk into a CVS and take what they need. Imagine you were a single mother, and every day you had to figure out how you were going to put food on the table. When you menstruate, it would not be fair to make you decide between paying your bills or buying tampons. However, it also isn’t fair to allow you to suffer for three to five days every month from infections because tampons are not affordable. Doesn’t that just sound awful? There are people in this city and in this world who have to experience that. You and I both know that there are enough tax dollars to make these products free. Don’t let period poverty continue. I ask for the sake of myself, my future daughter, and the 1.8 billion people on this planet who menstruate.
Catherine Dooley is a junior at Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC. As editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper, she is passionate about reporting on and writing about issues in her community. She is committed to researching and writing about issues that help to advance equity in Washington, D.C., such as current menstrual equity legislation. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, traveling, and playing tennis.