By Melissa Epifano
For The Register-Guard
APPEARED IN PRINT: SATURDAY, MARCH 25, 2017, PAGE A6
You probably don’t give much thought to the toothpaste in your bathroom cabinet or the bottle of shampoo in your shower. And something like a pad or tampon is just as forgettable — that is, until you need it.
The mundane necessities we take for granted, including menstrual hygiene products, are not accessible for many people. The onset of a period is an annoyance at the least, but for those who can’t afford pads and tampons, it can be the difference between missing school and work and having a healthy, comfortable day.
In India, more than 20 percent of girls drop out of school after puberty because of a lack of access to menstrual products. But this isn’t just an issue outside of the United States — it affects people right here in Eugene.
Organizations in Eugene offer hygiene services to the homeless, but those services are often limited, with strict age restrictions. Menstrual hygiene products are not on the list of items you can purchase with food stamps. Furthermore, when people donate to shelters, they often forget to donate these necessary supplies.
If people can’t access or afford menstrual products, they lose out on educational, family or job opportunities. In 2014, the United Nations declared the stigma around menstruation a “violation of several human rights, most importantly of the right to human dignity.”
If we are too scared to even say the word “period,” we will never be able to tackle the real issues, such as lack of access to products and dropout rates. That’s why Rosie — a nonprofit organization based in Eugene — was created.
Rosie’s mission is to break down the stigma surrounding periods, as well as provide access to these items. Rosie distributes to 15 shelters and schools in Lane, Linn and Benton counties. As of January, Rosie has handed out over 25,000 menstrual products. Rosie is completely run by student volunteers. When we’re not working on deliveries and fundraising, we’re working to find more permanent solutions for all those who bleed.
In February, Rep. Grace Meng of New York introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives for this exact cause. The Menstrual Equity for All Act’s purpose is “to increase the availability and affordability of menstrual hygiene products for women and girls with limited access, and for other purposes.” It’s groundbreaking and necessary legislation.
However, we have a concern that we hope will be addressed before it becomes law. The bill’s language doesn’t include transgender men and nonbinary people who menstruate. What may seem like a small detail, is in fact a very large one. If these groups aren’t included in and covered by the bill, the bill cannot stand for all. It may be politically convenient to push only for women and girls, but it is not inclusive or just. Throughout history, time and time again, marginalized groups have been left behind for the sake of progress.
It’s a mistake we must learn from. If Rep. Meng replaces the words “women” and “girls” with “individuals who menstruate,” the bill can really hold true to its title.
Melissa Epifano, a senior studying journalism at the University of Oregon, is the deputy communications director for Rosie.