Combatting Period Poverty in Boise

Kirsten Ahrend

Boise is the beloved community of many and it has grown tremendously and rapidly over the last few years. While Boise is generally known for being a safe city with relatively little problems, period poverty is an issue that significantly—and sometimes silently—impacts a large number of Boise’s population. The Boise Period Project is seeking to combat this problem by helping the community. 

 

Mallori Bjerke has been the outreach coordinator at Boise Period Project for about 3 years now. Boise Period Project is a nonprofit organization that targets period poverty in Boise, Idaho and surrounding communities by working to provide free access to menstruation products to all who experience menstruation. They are a relatively small organization consisting of just four members: an executive director/founder, Mallori (the outreach coordinator), a volunteer coordinator, and development coordinator. 

 

Mallori tells us that the central belief of the Boise Period Project is that any menstruator should have access to products. Whether homeless, low income, or no matter what the situation is, they don’t believe that anyone should ever struggle or have to choose between putting food on the table or buying menstrual products. According to the Boise Period Project website, they are the first organization in Idaho devoted to ending period poverty. They accept donations and have partnered with other organizations in the community to help the cause. 

 

Though a small organization, their big plans have begun by securing an office space. According to Mallori, this space would give the organization “...a brick and mortar presence so people could come in and get packs, products, whatever they need.” Another addition to their expansion plans includes building a menstrual curriculum for schools currently in need of more meaningful and effective education. In this case, Mallori says schools or groups could hire them out and they would come and give a general workshop on menstruation. This would provide a more comprehensive education surrounding menstruation than what is currently offered at many schools in the area. They would also like to invite people into their office building for these educational workshops. Educational workshops would aim to bridge the knowledge gaps that menstruators are left with after the brief overview of what school health courses are able to teach.

 

At first look, Boise looks affluent in its majority, but this is not the case. According to the national average as of 2017, the population of people in Boise living below the poverty level is 14.1%. The largest demographic of those living below poverty experience menstruation. Food stamps and government assistance do not help with the cost of period supplies which is why this organization is crucial to our community. 

 

Periods and issues that surround menstruation, such as period poverty, are not widely known. According to Mallori, the obscurity of this issue is largely due to the fact that menstruation is still such a taboo in society. There is so much stigma surrounding periods and menstrual health that they are often not discussed openly. One thing that Mallori points out is that menstruation needs to be discussed, not just openly, but more inclusively, which is another goal of the Boise Period Project. “Not all people who menstruate are women and not all people who are women menstruate, not all people who menstruate have genders. Menstruation can be very gendered and it shouldn’t be,” said Mallori. “Something that we are also trying to do is break the gender barriers around menstruation as well.” Making menstruation more inclusive is something that will help people to understand the issues surrounding menstruation better. 

 

According to the article, Changing the Cycle: Period Poverty as a Public Health Crisis, by Ashley Rapp and Sidonie Kilpatrick, “‘Period poverty’ refers to the prevalent phenomena of being unable to afford products such as pads, tampons, or liners to manage menstrual bleeding” (Rapp and Kilpatrick, 2020). Since so many members of our community live below the poverty line, it is natural to assume that many of those also struggle to afford products that aid in health and comfort during menstruation. 

 

When menstruators do not have access to hygienic products, menstruation can be dreaded and uncomfortable, also causing people to miss out on opportunities. Mallori mentioned the significant problem of missed schooling and education as an exmaple. If the typical menstruator typically experiences menstruation for 3-7 days out of the month without having proper comfort and products to manage menstrual bleeding, that is a significant number of missed days of school. This puts menstruators at a disadvantage to their counterparts when they do not have access to these products and further marginalizes them from the rest of the population. Mallori also mentions that when menstruators do not have access to these menstrual hygiene products, they often result in using items like rags, old socks, and newspapers to attempt to manage menstrual bleeding. The problem with this is that these products are not comfortable, they do not always work effectively, and they are not sanitary. When people do not have access to these products, they do not feel clean or comfortable in their own body which can result in a decrease in confidence. Since menstruation is unavoidable, “access to menstrual products is a right, and feeling clean, confident and capable during one’s period is a necessity” (Rapp and Kilpatrick, 2020). 

 

Lack of access to these products results in menstruators using alternatives that are often unhygienic. Items that are used as substitutes to menstrual hygiene products put menstruators at risk to a variety of urogenital infections like UTIs and bacterial vaginosis (Rapp & Kilpatrick, 2020). In addition to these physical health risks, menstruators are putting their mental health at risk related to the emotional toll that comes from not having access to proper products. Anxiety, depression, and distress are all derivatives of the issue of lack of hygienic products (Rapp & Kilpatrick, 2020).

 

Period poverty encompasses not only this lack of access to products, but also inadequate access to toilets, hand washing receptacles, and hygienic waste management (Rapp and Kilpatrick, 2020). Boise has an undeniable homeless population. Not only do the homeless have limited access to menstrual hygiene products, but they also lack access to toilets and handwashing receptacles. 

 

Another population that struggles with issues related to period poverty are those who are incarcerated. According to an article titled Why I’m Fighting for Menstrual Equity in Prison by Kimberly Haven, “Thirty-eight states have no law requiring the provision of menstrual products to incarcerated people” (2019). Mallori says this population is certainly one that does not receive enough aid. She adds that Boise Period Project, “just recently started working with Southwest Correctional Facility.” By partnering with this women’s facility, every incarcerated person who leaves receives a period pack as well as some business clothes. “I think it would be great if we could donate but it’s not really possible,” Mallori claims. Due to restrictions of items that can be imported into the prisons, they are not allowed to donate menstrual products directly to prisons. 

 

I was curious to learn more about lack of availability of products to those who are incarcerated. Because menstruators are not provided these items, they are forced to get creative to preserve their dignity and stay somewhat comfortable while menstruating. Haven claims that due to her forced creativity deployed to stop her bleeding, upon being released from prison she was in need of a hysterectomy, or the removal of her uterus, due to the damage it endured from things that were not menstrual products to stop bleeding (Haven 2019). This alone should be telling of how large of an issue incarcerated menstruators are facing. 

 

Haven writes that hygienic menstruation products have “become weaponized” in jails and prisons (2019). Incarcerated menstruators will often deny visitors, even their close family, when it is their time of the month because with each visitation, they are required to strip naked prior to the meeting to ensure that they have no items with them (Haven, 2019). Being required to strip naked in front of strangers is hard enough, but it can be humiliating to some if they are also menstruating during this experience, without proper products especially. Further, the correctional staff will often give out these products to those who are exhibiting certain behaviors as incentive. Access to these products should be a right, not something that someone has to work for at the expense of themselves. 

 

Another thing that comes from talking about menstruation and the issues surrounding it is the recognition of privilege that comes from having access to these products. Mallori said the one big take away that she has had since joining the Boise Period Project team is how important it is to have comprehensive access to menstrual products and recognizing the opportunities they can give or take away. “Mind blowing” is the phrase she uses to describe this realization. 

 

As a menstruator myself, I am familiar with the panic that comes with forgetting to bring an extra tampon with me to work or when travelling. However, as my privilege allows, I have never been faced with not being able to afford these products. I can only imagine and try to empathize with the fear and panic that comes from not being able to afford or access these products when I need them. 

 

With the introduction of COVID, we have seen many restrictions that limit even more of the access to these products. With many people losing their jobs or getting reduced hours at work, it has been increasingly more difficult for a large population of people to afford these products. Not only that, but a lot of public places have limited access, including public bathrooms. This means that it has been increasingly difficult for people to have access to menstrual products and restrooms to keep clean. In addition to this, Mallori has told us that many of their distributors have period packs placed in their bathrooms for people to take. With the introduction of COVID some of these places such as Planned Parenthood and Meriwether Cider have temporarily closed down. Instead of being discouraged, the folks at Boise Period Project saw it as an opportunity to start doing contactless delivery. They have a sign up on their website and they deliver packs right to the doors of those in need. They have even had people from other states reach out in need and BPP has wonderfully accommodated to provide shipping for them. 

 

Keeping an open mind during the pandemic is something that Mallori says has helped Boise Period Project adapt to the changing world. She states that keeping an open mind has helped lead Boise Period Project to a lot more opportunities. They have actually expanded their efforts during the pandemic by doing things like donating to Boise Mutual Aid. Mallori makes the point, “yeah we are in a pandemic, but menstruation doesn’t stop.” Ensuring that Boise Period Project was still around during these difficult times was essential to our Boise community.

 

Boise Period Project is currently accepting donations and they are in need of unscented tampons, individually wrapped cleansing wipes, travel hand sanitizers, and menstrual cups. You can drop-off donations to their office at the Gem Center of the Arts in Boise. In addition to Boise Period Project, homeless shelters are another place in which menstrual hygiene products are a need. 

 

I know that Boise is our beloved city, and some of our neighbors need help. In times of the COVID pandemic, it is crucial now more than ever that we start addressing the issue of period poverty, starting with our community, Boise. Period poverty poses severe challenges as well as health risks to those who are facing it. Something as simple as a donation to the organization or finding ways to volunteer your time would be much appreciated, not only by Boise Period Project, but by your neighbors in Boise. 

Works Cited

Bjerke, Mallori. Boise Period Project, Personal Interview. 2021

Haven, K. (2019, November 8). Why I'm Fighting for Menstrual Equity in Prison. Retrieved April 06, 2021.

Rapp, A., & Kilpatrick, S. (2020, February 04). Changing the Cycle: Period Poverty as a Public Health Crisis. Retrieved April 06, 2021.

Kristen Ahrend has a passion for writing and for constantly learning about the world around her.

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