11/28/2016 11:04 am ET Updated Nov 29, 2017

Menstruation Matters

When it comes to global development, in working to advance families and break the cycle of poverty, women's empowerment is the key--and a major obstacle that stands in the way of bringing all women to the forefront is the taboo surrounding the topic of menstruation.

Women's empowerment and feminism are hot topics right now, especially when it comes to creating more educational equity on a global scale. However, no matter how many opportunities we create, women and girls will not be able to take full advantage of those opportunities if menstrual hygiene is not addressed. Periods are the number one reason why girls miss school in developing countries. In many countries, periods can be scary for what menstruation symbolizes--the transition from being a child to a woman, ready to be a wife and mother. In some other countries, as I have learned, getting your period can be the signifying event that prompts female genital mutilation, child marriage, and dropping out of school.

Inadequate menstrual hygiene management also has negative mental and physical consequences. In India, 70% of reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual hygiene, and the effects can go so far as to affect maternal mortality. Unclean methods of maintaining menstrual hygiene can lead to infections ranging from skin irritation to the something more fatal, like toxic shock syndrome. Poor menstrual hygiene management may also cause strange bodily odors and bleeding through one's clothes, which causes women and girls to feel nervous and self-conscious when on their period.

This taboo around menstruation causes people to associate periods with weakness. A week in their month where girls feel emotionally on edge, in pain with cramps, confused about new food cravings, and worried about bleeding through their clothes. I myself, before coming to the realization of how human and real it is as a woman to experience periods, identified my time of the month as a weakness point.

My passion for menstrual hygiene formed during my family's experience with losing our own home during my freshman to sophomore year of high school, and through conversations with homeless women I met. In the spring of my sophomore year of high school, when my family saved up enough for us to move back into our two-bedroom apartment in Portland, I founded Camions of Care. What started as a personal project to use savings to buy and hand out menstrual hygiene products on my way to school, with the help of an amazing and driven youth team of peers, is now an exponentially growing organization.
Camions of Care is now a global youth-run nonprofit that strives to provide and celebrate menstrual hygiene through advocacy, youth leadership, and service---through the global distribution of menstrual hygiene products and engagement of youth leadership through a nationwide network of campus chapters. In the last two years, we have addressed over 27,000 periods through 40 nonprofit partners in 22 states and 13 countries, and we have 47 campus chapter at universities and high schools around the United States. Each care package is worth under two dollars, and thanks to a generous donation from Maxim Hygiene a couple months ago, for every dollar that is donated, we are able to provide another woman with everything she needs for an entire menstrual cycle.

We are also preparing to launch our policy program in the next couple months, which will engage advocates and legislators to push systemic change around menstrual health equity. Right now, 37 states in the United States have a luxury tax on tampons, we hope to change that because menstrual hygiene is not a privilege, it is a right. We are also going to push for menstrual hygiene products to be funded for accessibility at public institutions (homeless shelters, correctional facilities, and public schools) like they are doing in New York. In the future, we also hope to ensure that government assistance programs include menstrual hygiene products in the category of "hygiene materials" that are made available.

Get involved by starting a chapter with other youth from your area and start a menstruation station at your school to make menstrual hygiene products more accessible! Collect items with a menstrual hygiene product drive. Contribute to our cause--for every $2 raised, another woman is served. Spread word about our organization by sharing our videos. Every amount of support makes a difference and we hope you join our #menstrualmovement.