Before the coronavirus came to America, there was a different crisis brewing in New York City that some contend has only gotten worse since: “period poverty.”
“When people think about basic needs they think food, water, clothing, but pads and tampons are really important,” Astoria high school junior Nicole Soret told THE CITY. “We’re half the population.”
Soret teamed up with her classmate at the Young Women’s Leadership School of Astoria, Mya Abdelwahab, to make it their mission to get feminine hygiene products to all city students as part of a project for their Global Exchange class.
The assignment tasked students with considering the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to come up with ways to improve health or education, reduce poverty, or address climate change, according to the news site.
“We picked period poverty,” Abdelwahab said. “We go to an all-girls school and this seemed…”
“It seemed like such an important issue,” Soret said.
The teens initially planned to inventory schools to determine if they’re complying with laws that require public schools to provide period products in restrooms at no cost, “but then COVID happened and we had to change plans,” Abdelwahab said.
Instead, the duo lobbied the mayor and Department of Education to distribute the products through school meal sites, and to raise money to send them out through food sites run by private community groups.
“There are currently about 563,250 female students in New York City, 73% of whom are economically disadvantaged,” Abdelwahab and Soret wrote in an April 6 letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. “With over 450,000 New Yorkers currently filing for unemployment due to the coronavirus pandemic, the added monthly cost of menstrual pads and tampons could cause undue hardship for many families.”
The teens found a receptive audience with Assemblywoman Cathleen Nolan, and DOE legislative affairs director Joyce Elie, which led to support from Queens Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas and Brooklyn State Sen. Julia Salazar, chairs of the Task Force on Women’s Issues and the Committee on Women’s Health, as well as Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Grace Meng.
“Period poverty affects so many New Yorkers and the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has left many people without incomes, exacerbating the problem,” Simotas said in a statement to QNS. “Using supplies the city already has and redistributing them to those who need them most is a feasible action that will bring relief to many people who menstruate.”
“Period poverty is real and anyone who needs access to menstrual products should still be able get them through our schools. I commend the students leading this important initiative,” Maloney said.
The teens dubbed their initiative “Femstrate” and it quickly snowballed.
A GoFundMe page set up to raise funds for menstrual products to go out through private food distribution sites swelled to over $3,200. And city officials jumped into action.
“Thank you to the young people who brought this need to our attention,” Nathaniel Styer, a DOE spokesperson, told THE CITY. “Because of the advocacy of these young people, we are making the feminine hygiene supplies in our schools available to the public at many meal hubs across the city.”
The district’s current inventory of feminine hygiene products will be put out on tables at all 211 schools with meal hubs, sites that will be updated on the district’s website by the end of the week, Styer said.
“I’m so proud of them,” Global Exchange teacher Emily Fields told THE CITY. “The goal was to find something they’re passionate about, because that’s a life skill that will serve them well.”