Two Greenville women’s names are listed alongside celebrities and advocates in a letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos urging solutions for students who can’t afford feminine hygiene products.
Sharron Champion and Stephanie Arnold, co-founders of the Greenville-based organization Homeless Period Project, are at the top of the list of names featured in the letter, which will run as a full-page advertisement in The Washington Post on Monday.
“Menstrual hygiene products are basic necessities, and the inability to access them affects a student’s freedom to study, be healthy, and participate in society with dignity,” the letter says. “Studies have shown that when students lack access to menstrual hygiene products they skip or miss class, face embarrassment or objectification because of period stains, and are limited both academically and socially.”
The letter is signed by the CEO of Thinx Inc. — a feminine hygiene products company — and the executive director of Period — a nonprofit advocacy group — along with the president of the American Federation of Teachers and celebrities such as Padma Lakshmi, Sharon Stone, and Cynthia Nixon.
Arnold and Champion started the Homeless Period Project in 2015 after Arnold saw a video addressing the issue. In it, a homeless woman said she had to rip up toilet paper to serve as menstrual products.
“They are the least donated products to organizations that work with the homeless,” Champion said.
Homeless Period Project is a nonprofit organization that hosts and promotes period packing parties, where groups gather to pack tampons, pads, and other feminine hygiene products in baggies to distribute to homeless shelters, schools, food banks, and other places where women might need them.
Champion said the organization has distributed more than 230,000 packs since 2015, which has most recently included distributions to Transportation Security Agents and other federal workers who have been furloughed during the government shutdown.
In South Carolina, feminine hygiene products are considered nonessential, taxable items and are not among the tax-free items available to purchase for tax-free weekend.
“You can purchase things such as bridal gowns, fur coats, even lingerie tax-free, but you can’t purchase pads and tampons tax-free that weekend,” Champion said.
Champion said a lack of awareness is the biggest problem, which she hopes this ad will help change.
The letter addressed to DeVos asks the Department of Education to “remove discriminatory barriers that hold students back.”
“That includes acknowledging period products as health necessities, advocating for policies that support students who menstruate, funding programs to provide period products for free to students in all school restrooms, promoting comprehensive period health education for students of all genders before the age of 12, and commissioning a study to determine the impact period poverty has on students in the United States,” the letter says.
Arnold said making menstrual products available to all schools would send a strong message to girls that society values them in the classroom.
“It needs to come across as a very fundamental change in the way we view periods and the way we value our girls in our school system,” Arnold said.
A 2017 survey from Always — a feminine hygiene products brand from Proctor & Gamble — reported that 1 in 5 girls in the United States have missed class because of a lack of period protection.
“When you don’t have a lot of money, and you’re faced with, ‘Can I put food on the table or buy these for my two or three daughters?’ You’re obviously going to buy the food,” Arnold said. “What we’re finding out from school nurses and teachers is [some students] simply can’t afford it.”