It’s time for change – PERIOD.

Menstruators and allies congregate on the New Haven Green to end the stigma and inequality associated with periods

Emily DiSalvo, News Editor

A passerby strolling the sidewalks may have heard an unusual chant emanating from the New Haven Green Saturday, Oct. 19.

“We are the menstrual movement! Say it with me! We are the menstrual movement,” chanted Mariam Khan, a 17-year-old senior at Hamden High School and Connecticut PERIOD’s lead organizer for the rally to promote period equity.

The point of the chant though, was that talking about one’s menstrual cycle shouldn’t be unusual at all. The rally was hosted by Connecticut PERIOD, which is the local chapter of PERIOD, a non-profit fighting to end period poverty and stigma.

Jessica Simms

The rally was an opportunity for activists, students, women and supporters to talk openly and loudly about their periods, a topic that is normally spoken about in code or in whispers.

“When we have to go use the bathroom, we’re not going to hide our pad under our shirt and pretend it’s not there,” Khan said to a crowd of about a hundred enthusiastic activists. “We’re going to wave it around and be like ‘I’m on my period!’”

Period pride was the central theme of the event, which consisted of an hour and a half of chanting, speeches, songs, poetry and camaraderie. Attendees held red signs plastered with statements like “Stop Period Poverty” and “#PeriodPositive.”

The organizers of the event, who were all local high school students, outlined three major goals their movement hoped to accomplish.

The first was to eliminate the luxury tax on feminine hygiene products that exists in 35 of the 50 states. Connecticut is one of the 15 without a tax, but protestors were eager to support their neighbors.

Rachel Spells of New Haven said she brought her niece to the rally because it is important to understand the inequality of the tax.

“On top of us not making as much as men, we also then are taxed, a luxury tax, on a necessity of life,” Spells said. “She should know this, she should start the fight now.”

The second goal of the rally was to increase access to pads for those who cannot afford them.

Eileen Berry of Granby, Connecticut, is a member of Days for Girls, which creates and distributes sustainable feminine hygiene products. She agreed that it is unfair to women who cannot afford to buy feminine hygiene products in stores. Her organization provides an alternative.

They distribute cloth feminine hygiene pads that can be used and washed over and over for four years. She said she is teaching women, particularly in Kenya, how to make these pads themselves, which empowers them to break the cycle of poverty and oppression that starts when girls get their periods in developing nations.

“Young girls don’t have any sanitary products and when young girls don’t have any sanitary products, they have to drop out of school,” Berry said. “When they drop out of school, the dads know, now they can produce babies. So the dads sell them off (to get married), but if we can keep them in school, they get educated and the world is getting bigger and the girls are understanding, ‘I have other choices.’”

The third goal of the rally was to decrease the stigma around periods. Khan acknowledged how hard and awkward it can be to talk about one’s period.

“I’m sure everyone has their personal story with the period stigma and that’s why we are here to change that. We are going to lead a movement,” Khan said.

The rally also had legislative goals in mind, beyond increasing awareness and activism. State Sen. Alex Bergstein, who represents Greenwich, New Canaan and Stamford, spoke at the rally about the importance of petitioning the government to take action on providing free period products and gender equality in general.

“I want Connecticut to be the leader in eliminating all barriers, for everyone, so everyone can be fully empowered so we can achieve gender equality, and that’s what we want, that’s what we deserve and that’s what we’re going to keep fighting for,” Bergstein said.

Bergstein introduced two Greenwich High School seniors, Amy Barratt and Charlotte Hallisey, who have started a petition, which garnered 1,200 signatures, asking the Connecticut Legislature to pass a bill requiring free period products in all public schools.

“When that bill gets introduced in Hartford, hopefully sometime this spring, I need you all to come to the Capitol and make your voices heard,” Bergstein said. “Are you going to do that? With your voices that is how we make change happen. Do we have a date? Will I see you at the Capitol?”

The crowd roared their approval for Bergstein and two young activists who have already convinced the Greenwich Board of Education to enact the same rule within their school system.

Other speakers included Megan McNamara of Manchester, Connecticut, a fertility awareness educator. She said her approach is looking at the whole menstrual cycle, not just the time when women bleed and she seeks to educate women about why they bleed.

Jessica Simms

“I’ve had clients into their 30s and early 40s who still don’t know why they bleed or what menstruation is and the biological processes behind that,” McNamara said before her speech. “I feel like education is the root of empowerment and being able to speak up about fertility and periods more candidly and openly.”

During her speech, McNamara talked about how she has gotten to a point in her life in which she embraces her period rather than hates it. She said she used to make jokes about her period, but said these jokes are toxic.

“I still joked about my bleed with friends calling it the ‘red curse’ and all these other derogatory names,” McNamara said. “Doing that at the time just seemed silly, but we were actually perpetuating all this negativity and fear and limiting beliefs about our cycles by using those words.”

At least one Quinnipiac student attended the rally, at the encouragement of her friend who attends the University of New Haven. First-year law student Kayla Steefel said she was glad she came.

“It’s not just a woman’s issue,” Steefel said. “It’s an everybody issue, in my opinion.” 

One of the high school organizers, Farah Najjari delivered a poem about the period movement called “More than a woman.” The previously rambunctious crowd listened silently and intently as she delivered her powerful words.

“This body, it’s sharp edges, gentle curves,” Najjari read. “It is laced with battle scars because we women are survivors. And not one leering face or angry word can take away what we have fought for today. Remember, life giver, miracle creator, magic maker, woman. You are more than just a woman.”