You are recognized as a leader for your work creating The Period Project. What prompted you to start this particular cause?
“The Period Project was something that began within my own high school, where I cofounded an Intersectional Feminist Club. One of our first goals as a club was to get menstrual product dispensers in our student restrooms. We had products stored in our clinic—this fact was unknown to most and perpetuated the idea that a period is a sickness, or public event, not a normal bodily function to be handled in the privacy of a restroom. We thought solving this issue would be simple and easy. Much to my surprise, our request for free accessible period products was called radical and dismissed by our administration, who informed us that this was not a priority and there was not enough funding. In response, I led my club in rallying our students and community, gaining the endorsement of the district PTA, and acquiring three dispensers and a year’s supply of products. Throughout the process, my club and I learned how period stigma affects young menstruators and had a firsthand look at how the issue of period poverty impacts low-income students and their families.
“After eight months of countless hostile meetings, emails and a mountain of rejections, our fight for period equity was victorious—I convinced my administration to install the dispensers we purchased in our restrooms and stocked them with our donated supplies. At this point I realized, across my state, students were facing the same unaddressed injustice and would have to endure the same battle to gain access to this basic necessity. This is how The Period Project was born.”
What are some of the obstacles or hurdles you have had to overcome to drive change against period stigma?
“There was a seemingly endless number of roadblocks throughout The Period Project. A large one was the lack of money my state had to put into improving the quality of life of our citizens due to the Tabor Amendment, which redistributes excess money collected from taxes to the taxpayer instead of putting it into expanding the budget for education, public health, etc. This meant we had to drastically reshape the bill many times. I originally wanted to mandate that menstrual products be put in Colorado schools, but there was simply not enough money, so we created the program that would prioritize the students who need access the most, those in Title 1 schools.
“The bill passed 8-5 in the House Education Committee before COVID-19 slashed the legislative budget, terminating all nonessential programs. This was a huge disappointment, but the project still made a significant impact by breaking down social taboos and starting the menstrual-equity conversation in my state’s capitol, generating extensive media attention for the cause and, our biggest victory of all, securing commitments from the two largest school districts in Colorado to put menstrual products in their school restrooms.”
As a young person, you have so much more influence in the world around you than you may realize. When it comes to matters that impact youth, especially in a civic context, people in power genuinely want to hear from the youth themselves. You are in a unique position.
- Julia Trujillo
What is something you’d like people to know about you or your work that they probably don’t?
“I want more people to understand the validity and extent of both period poverty and stigma in our country and around the world. The root cause of period poverty and stigma is a complete lack of discussion and awareness. Our leaders and policymakers rarely consider the issues that impact marginalized communities—women, trans folks who menstruate, and low-income families or families experiencing homelessness—because these leaders so rarely fall into these communities themselves.
“One in five American girls have left or missed school due to a lack of access to period products, according to a 2018 study by Always. This fact goes widely unknown. Period stigma is deeply ingrained in our culture, and this stigma naturally extends into our classrooms. Asking for a period product is associated with shame and is done quietly, in secret. We do not expect people to carry toilet paper everywhere they go. Why? Because the need for toilet paper is universal. When we treat period products like a luxury, and a somehow “extra” product, we perpetuate period stigma among young girls.
“There is not enough legislation to address this stigma for the girls and women everywhere who are missing school, choosing tampons over meals, and experiencing shame surrounding their inability to afford period products, because these topics go so largely undiscussed. It is time we stop viewing menstrual products as luxuries and begin viewing them as necessities.
“Period poverty and stigma is rampant worldwide. There is a lot of work to be done to solve this global epidemic. By normalizing periods and providing for menstruating minors in more developed countries, it will become easier for us to view periods as a shameless aspect of life. Providing products to those in need will become a matter of public health and safety. This will allow our society to begin to prioritize addressing the unmet needs of menstruators all around the world.”
What advice do you have for other young people trying to advocate for change in 2020?
“I think the best piece of advice I can give is to be absolutely relentless when it comes to creating change in the face of opposition. If you are told no, do the work to find solutions and ask again. My project taught me that if you demand to be heard, you will be. I would also add that as a young person, you have so much more influence in the world around you than you may realize. When it comes to matters that impact youth, especially in a civic context, people in power genuinely want to hear from the youth themselves. You are in a unique position where some people will listen to you because they genuinely care and others will listen simply to be nice—but either way, take advantage of this!”