IWF-funded study leads to St. Louis period poverty initiatives

Community leaders who believe in the importance of ensuring access to period products for all people with periods in the St. Louis region gathered at City Hall. In the picture from left:
Top row: Alison Gee, Parents as Teachers National Center; State Representative Tracy McCreery, District 88. Center row: State Senator Jamilah Nasheed, 5th District; Mary Margaret Allgeyer, Cor Jesu Academy, Daughter of Founder, Jess Adams; St. Louis City Treasurer Tishaura Jones. Front: Jessica Adams, Founder and Executive Director St. Louis Area Diaper Bank, St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies; St. Louis City Alderwoman Megan Green, 15th Ward

Period Poverty Initiatives Address Long-Needed St. Louis Area Issues

A global health issue is being addressed in a very local way, beginning with the work of SLU professor Anne Kuhlmann and a study funded by Incarnate Word Foundation. Dr. Kuhlmann examined how low-income people with periods in the St. Louis area get hygiene supplies and necessary education about their cycles. What she found has grown into a dynamic local movement to help women living with “period poverty.”

“Global health issues are local health issues,” Kuhlmann told SLU News.  “Few people are talking about this in the U.S. This is about changing a cultural narrative. Most women in society can identify with having to ‘make do’ with toilet paper or tissue for a few hours when they are caught off guard by the start of their menstrual flow or run out of products. But, for the women who participated in this needs assessment, they are often forced to ‘make do’ all day, for their entire cycle, and often every month.”

In the study, Dr Kuhlmann, Ph.D., MPH, associate professor of behavioral science and health education At Saint Louis University, and her team surveyed 183 women identified by St. Louis community organizations that serve low-income people. Among their findings:

  • Nearly 2/3 of women surveyed don’t have the resources to purchase period supplies;
  • 66% of surveyed nonprofits reported clients expressed needs around affordability/accessibility of period supplies;
  • Nearly 40% of women surveyed who are employed full time or part time cited lack of access to menstrual hygiene products as cause for missing one or more days of work per month due to their periods.

These outcomes, and the enthusiastic participation of the local nonprofits involved in the study, led IWF to convene a partners’ meeting in April 2018 to identify ways to address the period poverty issue. Serendipitously, the St. Louis Diaper Bank had just received a large donation of menstrual hygiene products – a first for the organization. Executive Director Jess Adams proposed a program designed to improve access to period supplies in the region:

“Leveraging its resources of warehouse space, well-developed acquisition and distribution strategies, existing network of connections with agencies providing services to low-income women and girls, and its newly formed membership in the national program – the Alliance for Period Supplies – the Diaper Bank aims to serve as the hub of a new, collaborative network of providers that can provide consistent, adequate supplies of menstrual hygiene products to women who currently do not have access. While the network’s name and mission should be ultimately decided by the network of participants, the proposed name of this new program is The St. Louis Area Alliance for Period Supplies and its proposed mission is “to ensure that low-income women and girls in the St. Louis region have access to an adequate supply of menstrual hygiene products and to raise awareness of the causes and consequences of ‘period poverty’.” (Jess Adams)

This meeting was the genesis of the local alliance. Following this meeting, the IWF hosted potential alliance funders, and from this group emerged enthusiastic working groups focused on legislation and education/advocacy to address period poverty.

The alliance was the topic of the Women’s Foundation’s Annual Symposium in March 2019. IWF’s Megan Armentrout moderated a panel discussion on period poverty and local initiatives to address it. The panel participants included Dr. Kuhlmann, Jess Adams, Liza Weiss – Executive Director of Missouri Appleseed, and Missouri State Representative Tracy McCreery. In addition, a media campaign is underway to help “change the narrative on this taboo topic,” said Megan.

IWF takes an active role in advancing initiatives around education, support, and advocacy for the alliance. On a regular basis, IWF convenes a working group of funders, nonprofits, aldermen, senators and representatives to report on initiatives and to collaborate in support of each other’s efforts.