Quick poll: have you ever started your period when you were out of the house but either didn’t have a pad or tampon (or cup) on your person or purse and had to muddle through the day somehow without bleeding all over yourself? Maybe you had to fold paper towels or toilet paper and shove it into your panties and just pray that it would be enough to hold you over until you could access any sort of period product.
Now, imagine that you did not have the means to procure period products for every period due to financial circumstances — how would you go about your daily life when you got your period? I still cringe at the memory of girls telling me that my period had leaked through my pants one time — can you imagine spending the 3 to 5 days of your period constantly worried? Would you just stay home rather than risk bleeding through your clothes at work or school and risk public ridicule and disgust for leaking blood out of your body?
That is indeed what many people who menstruate do; they are forced to miss work and school because they cannot afford to buy menstrual products.
A national survey of 1,000 menstruating teens reported that 1 in 5 struggled to afford period products and 4 in 5 have missed or knew a person who missed attending class because they didn’t have access to period products. It is especially concerning because many students rely on the menstrual products supplied by the school districts at the nurse’s station or school clinic, but due to schools shutting down during the pandemic, many teens no longer had access to even that.
What is period poverty?
Period poverty is the inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education. It can include (but is not limited to) insufficient sanitary products, washing facilities, and waste management for women, girls, and people who menstruate.
According to a 2014 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report, 1 out of 10 youth who menstruate missed school due to not having menstrual products or resources during their period. Many schools in developing nations don’t have enough toilets or privacy, have poor water and infrastructures, and thus, make it extremely difficult for students to manage their menstrual cycle in a safe and hygienic manner.
While we often hear about youth in developing countries experiencing period poverty, many of us do not realize that period poverty is also pervasive in the U.S. “Nearly 1 in 5 girls have missed school due to lack of period products, according to a 2019 Always Confidence and Puberty Study,” Laura Magon, Sr. Director, Global FemCare Ventures/Growthworks at Procter & Gamble, told Scary Mommy.
In case it’s not obvious, people who have periods need to use menstrual products during their menstrual cycle so that they can maintain their health and hygiene. Unfortunately, menstrual products are pricey in the U.S. and are not covered by government benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Though the recent Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act allowed individuals to buy menstrual products using flexible spending accounts (FSAs) or health spending accounts (HSAs), uninsured folks don’t have access to these.
Only a handful of states (California, Illinois, New York, New Hampshire, Washington, and Virginia) have passed legislation to provide free menstrual products for public school students. While that is progress, many of these bills don’t provide funding to buy these period products, making it the local school districts’ responsibility to apply the law.
Meet the app helping to end period poverty
Enter the free Always You mobile period and bladder leakage tracking app — a joint venture between Always and Thrive Global. Magon explained that their team at Always had wanted to create a period tracking app for a long time — but they didn’t want to just track periods. Always wanted to bring people valuable content and help girls build confidence.
As a result, Always partnered with Thrive Global when a casual lunch meeting between Magon and Arianna Huffington about “the intersection of period care and holistic wellness” eventually led to the Always You app (now available in the Apple and Google Play stores).
What does this app do?
It’s super easy. Just by registering and engaging with the free Always You app, you can contribute to period product donations to help #EndPeriodPoverty through other partners like Feeding America. Not only can you track your cycle, you also get access to exclusive wellness content and Microsteps delivered by Thrive to help you with self-care by giving back to the community.
Studies show that giving back and helping others can improve your mental and physical health. The Always You period tracker leverages that desire to help improve the lives of others while allowing users to also invest in their own well-being. “By enabling our users to help donate period products, we are giving them the ability to give back and help build a country where no girl has to miss out on school because she doesn’t have access to period protection,” explained Magon. “Integrating this functionality makes it a seamless no-miss experience for the user to give back while engaging our app. We believe that this method is more sustainable and more fulfilling for our users,” she said.
Founder and CEO of Thrive Global Arianna Huffington told Scary Mommy that Microsteps are the heart of Thrive’s behavior change system. “They’re small, science-backed steps you can start taking immediately to build healthy habits that significantly improve your life,” Huffington elaborated. “We say Microsteps are too small to fail… Making very small changes in our trajectory can, over time, lead us to a very different destination.”
Not only does the Always You app track your period, Thrive Global has included dozens of these Microsteps that you can use to lower your stress and anxiety, improve your sleep and energy, and reframe your relationship with food and movement. The best part, according to Huffington, is that Microsteps are a no-judgment zone. “If you start working on a Microstep and fall off the wagon (or decide you’d rather try a different one), that is more than okay,” she said. “It’s about finding the Microsteps that you can seamlessly start integrating into your days. The steps are tiny, but the results add up to something powerful.”