Period poverty, the lack of access to menstrual hygiene due to a lack of resources, exists and continues to be rampant across the United States. In the last year, 1 in 4 women in the United States struggled to afford period products due to a lack of income. Let’s face it: tampons, pads and menstrual cups can be expensive, and the sales tax on them (in 36 states in the United States) because they are considered luxury items definitely does not help. So why don’t we talk about this issue? The stigma around menstruation that marks the topic as taboo has prevented us from having much-needed conversations like this for too long. The time is NOW for us to engage in dialogue about the right to menstrual hygiene and work to progress the menstrual movement — the fight for equitable access to period products and effort to break down the stigma around menstruation.

Building a movement

We think of addressing menstrual hygiene as a key to global development and getting closer to gender equality.

This movement stands upon the belief that it is a fundamental human right to discover and reach one’s full potential, regardless of a natural need. When homeless or low-income women do not have access to proper period care, they are forced to turn to makeshift, often unhygienic solutions like toilet paper, socks, brown paper grocery bags and even cardboard. Period products should be considered necessities. They should be provided in schools, workplaces, shelters, prisons and public restrooms.

I’m Nadya Okamoto, a 20-year-old rising Harvard junior, author of upcoming book “Period Power,” and the founder and executive director of PERIOD. We are a youth-powered nonprofit that provides and celebrates menstrual hygiene through service, education and policy. We distribute period products to people who could not otherwise afford them, engage a global network of student leaders to do so and more. Since our founding in December 2014, we have addressed over 280,000 periods through product distribution and registered over 200 campus chapters at universities and high schools around the United States and abroad. We acknowledge that this movement is not only about service but also social and systemic change.

Expanding around the globe

At PERIOD, we think of addressing menstrual hygiene as a key to global development and getting closer to gender equality. This is a universal issue because no matter what, if you are assigned female at birth, you will most likely menstruate on a monthly basis for forty years of your life. This movement has a long way to go, so we need everyone (it doesn’t matter whether you menstruate yourself or not) to be talking about periods and the need to address menstrual equity. Beyond the need for this movement in the United States, periods are still the number one reason why girls miss school in developing countries, and in many countries, menstruation is the single event that leads to girls dropping out of school, getting married early and undergoing female genital mutilation and social isolation. That needs to change, and we can start with small acts or raising awareness, collecting and donating period products, and mobilizing around legislative change towards menstrual equity. This is the menstrual movement. Join us.