Goodman Community Center | East High Girls Inc. students lead period…

East High Girls Inc. students lead period product campaign

This is one example of how programs like Girls Inc. give youth the tools they need to make a difference in their community

March 1, 2024 |
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Girls Inc. students lead campaign to make period products freely available at Madison East High School.

By Letesha Nelson, GCC executive director and CEO

I can’t stop thinking about something Goodman’s communications team told me recently. They said, “We interviewed some elementary kiddos earlier this week and were surprised and a little heartbroken by the pessimism the kids had when they were talking about the future. There was positivity too, but the pessimism was just striking.”

And I know it’s not just little ones with heavy hearts. Young people in
middle and high school are feeling it too.

No surprise, really. They’re soaking up the problems that permeate the news. But what gives me hope is that Goodman, and organizations like us, are there for our kids and making a difference.

Jade Koenigs, GCC Girls Inc. manager, works closely with lots of young people and was reassuring.

“Our young people aren’t pessimistic about the world. They see the problems that exist but they don’t get stuck on ‘this sucks.’ Instead, they say, ‘Okay. These problems exist. Let’s fix them,’” Koenigs said.

Girls Inc. of Greater Madison is one of those programs giving young people the tools and confidence to tackle hard things. Koenigs told me about five Girls Inc. students at East High School who are doing just that.

Periods. Menstruation. Tampons. Pads. Blood. Cramps.

All things we don’t talk about in mixed company. For most of us, from the time we learn about menstruation, it’s shrouded in secrecy and shame. And that IS a shame, because it’s natural and normal — and about half the world experiences it at some point in their lives.

The Girls Inc. leadership team at East High School wants to change that thinking. They are bringing it out in the open, talking about it and fixing inequities around access to essential period products.

“It's really important and it should already be a system that's in place. We shouldn't have to do this work”

‘Let’s make it hard for young people who are menstruating’

No one ever said that. The Girls Inc. leadership team knows that our school system didn’t set out to make it hard for young people to have access to pads and tampons, but you’d think so when you hear them describe it:

  • “We only have 5 minutes to pass to our next class. It’s a big school. That’s barely enough time to get to class, much less use the bathroom. If we have to find a period product too? Nearly impossible.”
  • “If you ask for a pass during class, it’s for that floor. Sometimes you get there and the dispenser isn’t stocked. Or the door is locked for construction.”
  • “You can get products from the nurse but then you need another pass …”
  • “If you need a gender-neutral bathroom, that can create added challenges too.”
  • “And then … you find one with supplies and you discover there’s no trash dispenser in the stall so you have to walk out in front of everyone to dispose of it.”

Over and over, in between their comments, they said, “It’s embarrassing.”

‘It’s not fair’ to ‘Let’s fix it’

The Girls Inc. campaign came out of a desire for fairness. Ellie summed it up by saying, “There’s a reason this sucks. There’s no systems built around it. We need to have menstrual products in public places. School is something that you are required to go to as a kid. If the school is not providing what you need in order to do what it’s requiring of you, that’s hypocritical, but also very inconvenient. And for some people, financially insensitive.”

“Menstrual products are considered like luxury products. I mean, not everyone can afford them. But it’s a necessity to not be bleeding all over the place. Right?” Etta added.

I agree with the leadership team, who all agree, “This is really important and it should already be a system that’s in place. We shouldn’t have to do this work.”

But they are taking it on — with a powerful mix of passion, creativity and tenacity.

A period product campaign

Last year, the Girls Inc. club at East High School launched a campaign with clear goals. The priorities:

1. Make products freely accessible.

Get as many donations of period products as possible to meet the immediate and ongoing need. Also have products in every bathroom — boys, girls, gender neutral, school offices and pantries.

2. Challenge the stigma around menstruation.

Talk about it. Make it public. Shift from secret to private, shameful to totally normal, something to tease about to something respected.

Year 1: Success + learning

About 1,800 period products were donated during the campaign in March 2023. The team soon discovered they were right about the need — they were gone quickly.

In the bathrooms that didn’t have wall dispensers, products were put in baskets. Of course, there were some teens who couldn’t help themselves from being silly about them, so they did things like sticking pads on the mirrors.

With their can-do spirit in place, the Girls Inc. team realized they would need funds for more period products, sanitary waste bins and dispensers to replace those baskets. With Koenigs’ help, they applied for a neighborhood grant through SASY, our local neighborhood association. They wrote their grant, presented their project to the SASY board and were awarded $2,500.

“Last year, we kind of thought it was gonna be like a semester-type project and then we realized how big of a problem it is and how much work it takes to fix it,” Elena reflected.

And expense. It would cost $18,000 per year to provide period products for everyone.

Year 2: Scale up + STEM

As the team looked for dispensers, it got complicated. There were none that allowed for the variety of products people want. But when Koenigs met folks from Cummins Inc., a global leader in engineering and innovation, at a Girls Inc. STEM camp, she asked if they might help. They ended up inviting the leadership team to present their need for a universal dispenser to a team of engineers and other problem solvers. Cummins was so impressed they are taking on the project — to at least explore design possibilities for a universal dispenser. Stay tuned to see where that goes!

The team also applied for another grant and are launching their second Period Product Campaign during March — Women’s History Month. And they are working with school administration to create systems that treat menstruating people more thoughtfully.

I’m so impressed. These Girls Inc. students are so committed to addressing the problems they see. Are the adults around you doing that?

In addition to encouraging resourcefulness, Girls Inc. and all the programs at Goodman are intentional about keeping play and joy central too. After all, they are still kids.

Note: Girls Inc. programs are inclusive. All girls, female-identifying and nonbinary youth are welcome to participate.

Want to help?

Contribute to Girls Inc.'s Period Product Campaign by dropping off period products at Goodman any time in March. Monetary gifts will fund Girls Inc. programming across Madison.

Make a financial gift here

The East High School Girls Inc. leadership team

Etta, 16

I actually joined Girls Inc. for the free snacks. However, when I saw what the club was doing, I was inspired to become a co-chair.

The club’s values align with my own, and I want to see more of them in our society. Some of these values are being “Strong, Smart and Bold.” It’s sort of our catchphrase. I highly value the “strong” portion. In our society, women are often portrayed as — and expected to be — weak, which is not something I believe in. I try to be strong so that I can help pave the way for other women, so they can be who they want to be.

Elena, 17

I’ve been in Girls Inc. since sixth grade. What drew me in was the facilitator. She was one of the first adults who spoke to us with respect. It really bothered me at the time how adults never took me seriously just because I was young. All of the Girls Inc. facilitators have had that quality. What makes Girls Inc. special is that it is what you make of it. If you want a space to just chill, you can have that; if you want a space to make change — like the period project drive — you have a space to do that; and if you want to build a good community, it’s the space to be.

Kalea, 16

I joined Girls Inc. in eighth grade. My favorite part is the independence, autonomy and power I’m given. Often times goals (especially community-action-oriented goals) feel unattainable as a minor and as a girl. However, the support Girls Inc. as an organization, resource and community has given me, has enabled me and my peers to pursue those goals. Girls Inc. lets someone explore, discover, create or experience something new or simply can provide them with the space and resources to be happy.

Ellie, 17

I started (Girls Inc.) freshman year — in Girls Who Code. It’s been fun over the years to see the club grow into what it is now. I’m starting to get into bigger commitments and doing stuff in the community. I’ve been co-chair for three years. Leadership opportunities are big for me. Girls Inc. has helped me grow so much as a leader. It provides this non-male dominated space. Training in a male-dominated workplace now, I see how valuable it is. And I love our Girls Inc. Adventure Club excursions.

Allison, 16

I joined Girls Inc. last year and joined the leadership team this year. Girls Inc. has helped me get more involved in our school’s community, and helped me realize some of the inequalities that we could change in our community here at East and even in our community in Madison. Girls Inc. is a space where you can come and share any ideas that you might have to help make the community a better place. You’re able to share any feeling that you might have about the community and try to make the school a little bit better than it already is.

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