October 26: Menstrual Hygiene Equity
The dynamic energy of Bentasia Parker and Candace Turner caused me to pause with interest and fascination. I turned up the volume on the podcast and listened closely.
The Advocate Academy podcast, a production from the Women and Gender Resource Center at the University of Alabama. I tuned in on March 31 and listened to “Menstrual Hygiene Equity: An Interview with the Founding Members of “October 26: Driven by Women.”
Normalizing the Natural
Two young Black women, Bentasia Parker and Candace Turner, are on a mission to raise awareness about the importance of access to menstrual products, normalizing menstruation, and menstrual cycles.
I was impressed with their commitment to the women and girls in their community and surprised by the activities, requesting donations of menstrual products they launched to promote change.
Bentasia and Candace met in their Global Health course, taught by Dr. Amanda Espy-Brown.
They sat together as the only students of color in the classroom.
The class was tasked with an assignment requiring a written case study. Candace chose to write about maternal mortality in the United States. Bentasia wrote about the lack of sanitary products for menstruating girls in local public schools. Both papers were favorably received. Their professor encouraged them to consider the discussion of menstrual equity as an essential topic for further study.
Women’s health, menstrual cycles, and menstrual hygiene
On 4-15-21, our Zoom conversation focused on several topics: women’s health, menstrual cycles, and menstrual hygiene.
Bentasia Parker is an interdisciplinary student in her junior year at the University of Alabama. She will graduate in December of 2021. Personal experience and loss drew her to select epidemiology as her major. Initially interested in becoming a Physician’s Assistant, her interests shifted after an opportunity to ‘shadow’ a Physician Assistant. She knew that this was not her calling.
In July of 2020, Bentasia’s grandfather passed away due to complications of COVID-19. Unfortunately, he had diabetes requiring dialysis. Her overwhelming grief created an emotional and pivotal moment. She knew that studying epidemiology would be the best choice.
I grew up in Evergreen, Alabama. [It is a tiny town with a population of 3,944 as of the 2010 census]. Candace and I were the only two women of color in our global health class, the only students of color. We both have experiences and knowledge about the lack of feminine hygiene products in public schools. I remember going to school with girls who could not afford sanitary products. I would give mine if I had any ‘left-overs.’ People don’t understand that those menstrual products can be costly. It is like choosing between buying food or buying sanitary napkins. No girl should go without menstrual products. We did not choose to have cycles. I felt that young girls were missing school and work because they couldn’t afford menstrual products. I am a feminist, a true feminist, and a woman’s advocate. I stand for women. I read about women’s issues to empower myself so that I can gain more knowledge.
I grew up in Hale County, about thirty minutes away from Tuscaloosa. The one doctor for the community is a twenty-minute drive; the nearest hospital is an hour and thirty minutes from town. Since I was five years old, I wanted to be a doctor. I am studying psychology and will be a graduating senior in July 2021.
We both have experience and knowledge about the lack of feminine products. I remember going to school with girls who could not afford sanitary products. My grandmother would tell you, “go into the bathroom, grab napkins, grab this and that, we’re going to use the old underwear, use what we have.”
I agree with Bentasia. I am a girl’s girl. My main goal is to help everyone. I want to be a doctor. I know, like, yes, the Circle of Life happens, but while you are still alive, you must benefit from (knowledge), so you won’t have to live vicariously through other people. I want to help people get the most benefit out of life. We have young people who are transitioning, plus half of the population is female. Our bodies are already super-political. I would say that politics and money [are the root of the problem] since the government and people who make these products are so intertwined. It’s capitalism and the patriarchy.
Something so normal as menstruation is not normalized. I know a lot of women who feel like they don’t know; they are not knowledgeable about their bodies. So, they tend to make fun of people.
I really wanted to go to med school and law school, do the dual degree program to get a law degree in health law. I want to protect other people.
Men and boys think we are ill because of cycling. I talk about how we should teach children that these things are normal. My friend started her cycle at nine years old, the youngest in our class. She was made fun of because nobody knew why she was bleeding. But then again, people fail to acknowledge the female anatomy, as well as me. I don’t know why, but we go through hell.
Sometimes men don’t care to learn. It makes me mad because people make it seem like something is wrong with you when it is so normal. They
I think it is very important for everyone to learn about female and male bodies. My father has four daughters, so he knows a lot about cycling. My brother is the oldest with three sisters; he also knows a lot about cycling.
I feel like that also helped us growing up because many times with my brother. “He would help me if I had a mishap or accident.
Q: How old were you when you got your period?
I was twelve years old, but it was very irregular. I had a cycle I started it’s where it was consistent, then it disappeared for a year before getting it again. When my grandfather died, I was diagnosed with chronic stress because his death took a toll on me. So, my cycle didn’t come for a very long time. I told my mom, and she made an appointment with the OBGYN. They did a lot of blood tests, and everything came back normal. MY OBGYN said that chronic stress and emotion can take a toll on your body and make your cycle irregular.
Q: How about you, Candace? How old were you when your first period came?
I was 11 years old. It was very, very irregular. There was a time when I had a cycle in January and didn’t have another one until December. From age fourteen to eighteen. I got on birth control, and it was somewhat regulated. I changed birth controls, and it’s just all over the place.
Lasting for two weeks at a time, you know, spotting.
Donations for Local High Schools
Q: What did you accomplish this year?
We just finished a menstrual products drive from March 1 to March 3. We collected 100,000 pads and 50,000 boxes of tampons. We are not allowed to donate products that go inside the vagina, but we had 20 to 30 boxes of pads (?) in the first two and a half weeks. We organized an Amazon Wishlist for people to donate. The menstrual products were shipped to the University of Alabama Women and Gender Resource Center. We could not have done this without them. So, we are 100% grateful for them.
We also had actual personal donations that people delivered to our homes. We also had drop boxes for donations at different places on campus.
Q: How are the supplies dispensed?
We are going to Hale County High School, the school I graduated from, and we are going to pack everything up, sanitize them all and give them to Miss Brown at the school. Bentasia will take a supply back to Evergreen to Hillcrest High.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
We want to buy dispensers for the school that cost about $300.00 each.
There is a person (name?) who has dispensers. They would be placed in the bathrooms or the nurses’ office of the school. The supplies are all free.
We are planning to donate to several high schools every three months.
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