Thousands of youth in Tacoma are not able to brush their teeth, wash their face, or take showers. And for many girls starting their menses who don’t have menstrual products, it’s affecting their self esteem, education and health.
The truth is…we can’t afford to be hush-hush about periods anymore
EVERY girl has a period story that is, well, stained with awkwardness. And many times horror. Besides the already overwhelming physical side, the emotions that register are equally hard to process.
But it’s natural and should be talked about without making girls feel ashamed or guilty.
The reality is, NOT speaking about periods is having huge consequences on our communities and leading to period poverty.
What is period poverty?
Period poverty is lacking access to menstrual hygiene products and education.
All menstruating people know what it’s like to have your period show up unexpectedly at school or before school.
But for girls who don’t have access to menstrual products, the shame follows them home and keeps them there.
It’s a huge problem to have for many schools and one that begs the question – how do we fix it? Sharon Chamber-Gordon stepped up to answer that question with the nonprofit she founded, Raising Girls.
She says, “The biggest challenge is that so many girls were missing school when they had their periods…And we know that a poor girl growing up uneducated is a recipe for disaster and a vicious cycle. Our goal at Raising Girls is to mitigate that so girls have what they need to feel good about themselves and show up for school.”
A vicious cycle indeed.
According to a 2014 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report, 1 out of every 10 menstruating youth misses school during their cycle due to lack of access to menstrual products and resources.
In talking to counselors at schools, Sharon also uncovered that girls were getting urinary tract infections because they were using socks for pads. Or trying to create pads out of their baby sister’s or brother’s diapers.
Not only is period poverty affecting education, it’s also a public health crisis.
So why are organizations sending hygiene products to third-world nations when there are over 7,000 girls right here in Pierce County who desperately need those pads and deodorant?
It’s a great need that has been overlooked simply because no one has been talking about it.
With all the shame, guilt and embarrassment girls and women have felt when it comes to the big red-it’s no wonder the issue has received the silent treatment.
(Oprah meme. Were you silent, or were you silenced?)
Sharon says, “When I talked to people about this they would say ‘Oh my gosh we didn’t know that was happening in the United States!’ People saw these issues as third world issues from across the pond. Churches and other service organizations were packing and shipping hygiene care products overseas because they didn’t know we needed it here.”
Raising Girls has brought awareness to period poverty and hygiene security and it’s gone a long way. At one point their work was featured on the front page of Tacoma News Tribune with “menstruation” in the actual headline of the article.
And one reader personally called Sharon about it.
“She was an older lady who called me and told me how she took the article to her husband saying, ‘Look honey! Look what word is on the front page! Look how far we’ve come!’ That was really special to me.”
With awareness has come other major wins. The Governor of Washington has signed into law that menstrual products should be free in schools. This is a great step in the right direction.
Even though schools don’t have funding for the products (yet) it’s still a victory because it means period poverty is finally being talked about.
Who is Sharon and what is Raising Girls?
Sharon is a community organizer who has been doing nonprofit work for the last thirty years. But she’s also a country girl at heart.
She hails from the countryside of Jamaica, which she says is similar to the pacific northwest in terms of weather; sweaters and socks in the chilly mornings and sandals in the afternoon.
She grew up with a big family and a mother named Mary who was committed to serving her community in any way she could. Whether it was taking hot food wrapped in kitchen towels to neighbors, or reading mail for those who couldn’t read–Mary raised Sharon to be actively engaged in her community and always give a helping hand.
“Raising Girls came from my mom raising me as a girl to me raising my daughter as a girl. It’s a tribute to my mom and to my daughter.”
The story behind the idea of Raising Girls goes a little something like this…
Sharon’s daughter, Amara, came home from Truman middle school one day without her telltale smile.
“Mom…today was so sad,” Amara said.
“What happened, sweetest girl?” replied Sharon.
“There were some girls at recess no one wanted to play with.” she said.
“Do you know why?”
“Because they didn’t smell so good.” Amara said.
Her daughter’s story pushed Sharon to start a non-profit providing girls with menstrual and hygiene products. She got to work and began contacting local schools about this issue.
What she found was surprising..and alarming.
“When I talked to the then superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools I was told that no one else is doing this. People are focusing on food and school supplies but no one is focusing on hygiene products…”
Sharon found the same was true for Boys & Girls clubs and many other local organizations and nonprofits.
Raising Girls is the only nonprofit in the South Sound focusing on period poverty and hygiene security.
Raising Girls is a Tacoma nonprofit organization servicing girls (and now boys) with hygiene products across the Puget Sound.
Sharon and her team of eighteen amazing women, including her daughter Amara, work with schools and organizations like the Tacoma Urban League and the Boys & Girls Club to identify those in need and deliver care packages to them.
Raising Girls won BECU’s People Helping People award in 2019.
Their plan is to continue raising awareness and broaden the scope of young people who are served. To do that, they need help from the community.
How can you get involved?
In Pierce County there are about 7,970 girls who are considered high need. It would take $1.2 million dollars per year to service just these girls.
Sharon says, “The funding needs to be there. We’ve seen great collaboration so far with other organizations and we’d love to get the community more involved… We just need more supporters, volunteers, and donors to join us.”
Here’s how you can help:
In the last two years, Raising Girls went from supplying 11 schools with hygiene products to 34 schools. Just last year they donated over 3,000 care bags. But the work is ongoing and the need is rising.
Every donation Raising Girls receives is used towards buying, packing and delivering hygiene products across the South Sound. Each care bag includes 10 brand new hygiene products that will last one girl or boy about 8 months. They also include inspirational notes of encouragement and love.
Raising Girls would not be able to serve Tacoma’s youth without the support of our community! Your donation, no matter the size, will make a difference.
- Host a Packing Party
- Write inspirational cards that are included in the care bags
- Fill Up A Care Bag
- Buy Hygiene Products via Amazon Wishlist
ADOPT A SCHOOL:
Is there a specific school you want to help? Raising Girls will pack the bags and you can deliver them.
Learn more about Raising Girls and how you can get involved here: https://www.raisinggirls.org/