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Story Publication logo October 6, 2021

What Happens When the Story You Thought You Had Isn’t the One You End Up Reporting?

paintings at menstrual exhibition

In Puerto Rico, data on menstrual injustices is scarce. But stories on the ground hint at a range of...


Entrance to Cíclica, a menstrual exhibition I attended as part of my community reporting for the project. Image by Adriana Roza Rivera. United States, 2021.

Menstrual product affordability! Colonialism! Girls' education! These are all things I thought I’d be addressing with my Pulitzer Center Reporting Fellowship.

Margaret E. Johnson, professor of law at the University of Baltimore, wrote: “Menstrual injustice is the oppression of menstruators, women, girls, transgender men and boys, and nonbinary persons, simply because they menstruate.”

Anecdotes from sources in Puerto Rico proved that menstruating individuals on the island were experiencing just what Johnson describes. But how does one prove there are menstrual injustices happening in Puerto Rico when there is barely any research and data available on the subject?

Diana Betancur Toro is a doctoral student at the department of psychology at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras. Betancur Toro's research focuses on menstruation from a biopsychosocial perspective. Betancur Toro clarified that menstrual justice goes beyond menstruation; it is a matter of social justice.

“Menstruating individuals aren’t poor because they menstruate,” Betancur Toro said of the term “period poverty.”

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As I began reporting in a largely virtual world restrained by the everlasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, roadblocks piled up. I struggled to find data and research to support what I heard on the ground.

Then my Pulitzer Center adviser, Melissa Noel, posed an important idea: Just because a scientist hasn’t researched an issue you are reporting on doesn’t mean there isn’t a story. I was so focused on getting scientific data for my health journalism story that I hadn’t thought about how the story was just that: the lack of data.

The story morphed from one anchored by statistics and numbers into one that uplifts voices. These voices chant clearly: there is no data, and here’s why we need it.

Then I started tackling my reporting differently, and it became community-based, with the lack of scientific research dedicated to menstrual injustices in Puerto Rico as the leading issue. How does this lack of data compare to data in the rest of the United States or in other countries? Why are there so few people doing activism on menstruation when it affects every menstruating individual for decades of their lives?

To my fellow Pulitzer Center Fellows and other reporters: if you’re wondering if your story is a story, take a step back. Don’t focus so much on the individual aspects. Look at the bigger picture. Look at the system.

The system in Puerto Rico has perpetuated a lack of data on menstrual injustices on the island. To learn more about this, you’ll just have to stick around to read my reporting.

[This field note was updated on October 15, 2021.]


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