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Local Organizations Collaborate To Increase Access To Menstrual Products Among Low-Income People

(Jan. 24, 2019) (L-R) Anne Sebert Kuhlmann, Jessica Adams and Angie Wiseman joined "St. Louis on the Air" to discuss period poverty in the region.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

A report published in the latest issue of the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology surveyed low-income women in St. Louis and found that nearly two-thirds of them can’t always afford pads or tampons – often resorting to rags, diapers or paper towels. This is referred to as “period poverty.”

On Thursday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh delved deeper into the issue with Anne Sebert Kuhlmann, associate professor of behavioral science and health education at St. Louis University, who led the study.

“Sixty-four percent were not able to afford needed period products in the past year … And we found that for about 20 percent of those women, this is something that they faced every month,” Kuhlmann said.

She explained that those who don't have healthy menstrual hygiene are at higher risk for infections – such as vaginal or urinary tract infections and skin infections. In addition, it can lead individuals to miss work or school.

“You can also imagine how it affects your sense of self-worth and dignity,” she added.

Kuhlmann serves on the board of Dignity Period, a local organization that helps distribute pads to girls and women in Ethiopia. While conducting an evaluation for the program, Kuhlmann said she realized “that there wasn't a lot of evidence or data about this issue in the United States or other high-income countries.”

“And we thought, ‘OK, a lot of really low-income women are living under a lot of the same conditions here, but we're not talking about it, we're not documenting [it], we don't know the extent or the magnitude,’” she added. “And so that really drove us to want to look at this issue here in St. Louis.”

Angie Wiseman, executive director of Dignity Period, and Jessica Adams, executive director of St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies and the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank, also joined the conversation to discuss how local organizations are collaborating to address St. Louis’ period poverty.

Related: ‘The taboo can be changed:’ St. Louis non-profit helps Ethiopian women shed menstruation shame

"You can also imagine how it affects your sense of self-worth and dignity."

Similar to Dignity Period’s program in Ethiopia, where reusable pad kits are distributed and educational programs with both boys and girls are conducted to explain menstruation, the local organization will be doing a run of reusable pads produced here in St. Louis by Cotton Babies

“Our expertise is distribution in Ethiopia, not in St. Louis,” Wiseman said. “The alliance already has a very willing group of partners that are very excited to get these products — so we're actually gifting our reusable pads to the alliance, and they'll work on distribution as they work with the organizations that are looking forward to them.”

The newly established St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies is a program of the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank. They will begin their program this spring with the aim to distribute free reusable and disposable menstrual products to people who need them. 

(Jan. 24, 2019) Various reusable pads Dignity Period distributes to those who don't have access to menstrual hygiene products.
Credit Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio
Dignity Period distributes various types of reusable pads to those who don't have access to menstrual hygiene products.

Adams said that the program will operate similar to the diaper bank’s model of distribution.

“We will bring on partner organizations and we will distribute the products to those partners, and they will distribute them to the women and girls that they're serving through their programs or at schools. We really kind of want to make sure to broadly get products out to different types of women in St. Louis,” Adams added.

She explained that this initiative all really started in May 2018, when the National Diaper Bank Network launched the program The National Alliance for Periods Supplies, largely supported by the Kimberly Clark brand U by Kotex. The brand has donated millions of pads and panty liners to the national alliance which were then distributed to the local programs.

“Menstrual hygiene products are often what stand between women and full participation in their lives. And that's the problem that we're aiming to solve,” Adams said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Angie Wiseman, executive director of Dignity Period.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.