For women living in poverty, menstruation can be more than just a monthly inconvenience. It’s a cause for both embarrassment and hygiene issues since many can’t afford the appropriate products. Manhattan College’s Just Peace Club, a social action group dedicated to fighting injustice, is working to change that.
The Period Project, spearheaded by senior English majors Katelyn Conroy and Sarah Kissane, began on Nov. 18th and ran until Dec. 6th.
“The Period Project really started when Katelyn and I decided that we wanted to do an event that would bring our club together through service and also would be giving back to the community of the Bronx. We heard about similar events that collected pads and tampons for homeless women through the peace organization our club is affiliated with, Peace Action New York State. We then discovered that feminine hygiene products are usually at the top of many shelters’ lists of needs because they are such a difficult item for homeless women to afford,” Kissane said.
With around 2,000 female students at MC, Kissane and Conroy presumed that most of them have experienced the stress of not having a pad or tampon when they needed it most.
“The Period Project really aimed to put in perspective the unexpected hardships for women who are homeless, while also hopefully removing the stigma attached to talking about the topic of women’s periods,” Kissane said.
Many women–and men even more so–may be prone to overlook the financial burden this biological function inflicts on half the population. While numbers vary to local prices, having a period is a substantial cost for women to pay over the span of a lifetime.
In a recent study conducted by The Huffington Post, it was estimated that the amount of money women spend on pads, tampons, pain relief medicine, and new underwear over the span of their lives is around $7,000. This doesn’t include the cost of gynecologist visits to keep their reproductive health in check, or the costs of hormonal birth control–then the cost rises to around $18,000.
The shelter that Just Peace worked with for the project is called Siena House, located on W. 168th Street.
“Siena House is a women’s shelter in the Bronx that works with the NYC Department of Homeless Services to give temporary housing to many homeless single mothers and children. Its mission is to assist these women in an effort to move away from homelessness and poverty to find more independence and self-worth,” Kissane said.
The turnout for The Period Project has been so outstanding that Just Peace was actually able to expand their donations to another shelter: Concourse House, located further East on Grand Concourse, which is also an organization that offers transitional housing for women and children.
“Each of these shelters’ emphasis on instilling these disenfranchised women with not only housing, but also a sense of human dignity and self-worth really aligned with our efforts at Just Peace to give women access to such a simple, basic need like tampons or pads. Both shelters are truly grateful for all of the donations and that the MC community has addressed this widely ignored need in the homeless shelters of NYC,” Kissane said.
Katelyn Conroy, who oversees the Peace Club along with Kissane, was thrilled with the turnout. As flyers and donation boxes appeared around campus, word about the cause spread and MC’s women came out in droves to support it.
“There is a huge bin in my room filled with pads and tampons, singles and in boxes. I also have a Chipotle bag just full of tampons. All the resident assistants who are participating have had to empty their boxes or get new ones because they’ve gotten full,” Conroy said.
The boxes were located in Cornerstone, The Social Action Suite, and all of the dorm buildings. Despite finals week fast approaching, Conroy and Just Peace still found time to go door to door each week for donations, as well as setting up a donation table in the commons.
“I think it has been so successful for a lot of reasons, but mainly because it is so accessible. Most girls have pads or tampons on them at all times and they definitely have them in their rooms. We have been using so many platforms to get donations for this reason,” Conroy said.
Jessica Risolo, an RA on the first floor of Overlook Manor, volunteered to have a donation box in her room for the project.
“I think we tend to disregard some of the necessities that people experiencing homelessness must often go without. Pads and tampons are not cheap, so it’s very possible that if someone has very little money, they might need to choose between having these products and having enough to eat that week. Nobody, regardless of socioeconomic status, should have to go without basic hygiene products and I think it’s so important that MC is helping the city’s most vulnerable, which is homeless women,” Risolo said.
Conroy holds the same outlook and cognizance as Risolo, but also notices that The Period Project has escalated a general sense of magnanimity and empathy on campus where it may have been lacking.
“Having pads, tampons, liners, etc. is something we take for granted. We have heard so many girls tell us that this is a really great idea or that they did not even think how much of a problem homeless women have with their periods until now,” Conroy said.
Additionally, Conroy notes that homeless women are more susceptible to suffer from Toxic Shock Syndrome, a bacterial infection with harsh side effects that results from the prolonged use of one tampon.
“Providing access to pads and tampons is the only way to stop this from happening. We never want homeless women to risk their health because they only have one pad or tampon for a five day cycle,” Conroy said.
Nothing like The Period Project has ever been carried out at MC before, but in introducing it, Just Peace cultivated the kind of awareness and dialogue that bolsters women’s empowerment on college campuses and also in communities like the Bronx, where poverty and inequality are tireless issues.
Conroy reflects on the project with heart: “As a club we really wanted to give back to the community. We do a lot of awareness raising, but we wanted to do something that is a direct link between us and people in need. We are, unintentionally, a club of all women so it is especially close to us. It’s really important because having pads and tampons is such an essential thing.”