WHEN I was younger, I would find myself asking female friends or colleagues if they had an extra sanitary pad with them. My periods were irregular and would start unexpectedly. This meant the napkin panhandling happened on more occasions than I would care to admit. It was embarrassing, but necessary.
One time I got my period, I instinctively knew I had already stained my skirt. But I was ashamed to stand up, walk out the door, and buy an emergency pad. I rushed to the bathroom during a break, moistened some tissue paper with water, rubbed out the period blood as best as I could, and rotated my skirt so the stain wouldn’t be obvious on the navy-blue fabric from behind. Several wads of tissue paper folded over served as emergency pad.
But I guess the most obvious cause of these instances was that I couldn’t afford an extra menstrual pad on my allowance or petsa de peligro money. Grinning and bearing it often became part of a surprise period until I could get home and clean myself up.
Over the years, I’ve been paying it forward to other women in my life. I make sure to have an extra stash of sanitary pads (and disposable undies later on) in my bag. With menstruation and feminine hygiene so deeply stigmatized, this act provided a sense of security and hygiene when I’m out and about.
Then I learned later on about something called period poverty. My experience was not unique, after all.
Women can barely afford feminine hygiene products on a regular basis. As a high school student with limited allowance, I knew this
Even without a pandemic or national crisis, women on their periods have felt the shame of being caught without menstrual health products on hand. It’s a distracting, uncomfortable (sometimes painful if cramps are involved), embarrassing, panic-inducing, and traumatic experience. Yet it happens with the regularity of a monthly flow.
The unfortunate thing is that menstrual hygiene management often comes with a huge price tag. Women all over the world can barely afford feminine hygiene products on a regular basis. As a high school student with a limited allowance, I knew this fact first-hand.
This scenario becomes doubly harder during a pandemic. A UK-based research revealed that the worldwide lockdowns due to COVID-19 have prevented three out of 10 women between the ages of 14 and 21 from accessing feminine hygiene products.
The portrayal of monthly periods by media and advertising does not help one bit. Runny blue liquid is often used to illustrate menstrual flow—not exactly the color of clotted blood made of shed uterine lining we would witness every month. When people see menstrual blood in real life, there is often disgust and bewilderment, accompanied by period-shaming when a woman is caught unprepared for it.
In a brutal example, some cultures deem menstruating women unclean and polluted. The communities have them banished in huts outside their villages for the duration of their periods, exposing them to predators, hunger, disease, and extreme weather conditions.
‘Why underwear and sanitary napkins, and not food?’ I try to explain that these are also essential items
So, no; contrary to what others might think, panties and period products are not frivolous items—even when some countries tax them as such.
People have asked, “Why underwear and sanitary napkins, and not food?” I try to explain that these are also essential items.
Donors are acutely aware of goods that help address food, shelter, and clothing needs. Pantry and closet items can be readily sourced. Empty spaces can be transformed into shelters in a snap. But I learned useful things from the frequent disaster responses of my high school alma mater (St. Theresa’s College) and from the country’s oldest non-government organization (Gota de Leche). Feminine hygiene products are always important items to pack.
Major disaster supplies lists like that of Red Cross’s don’t even specifically mention menstrual hygiene items. If they do, they are often lumped with “personal hygiene” or are way down there with, I don’t know, chewing gum? Candy bars?
This neglectful practice can and has proven to be harmful to women who need awareness and education on maintaining hygienic practices even (and especially) during these times of lockdowns and quarantining. A pandemic slashes or decimates incomes, and makes goods scarce—and stepping out to get them extra risky. Feminine hygiene products become even more difficult to come by. So what can be done in the meantime?
This is when the welcome phenomenon of community pantries sprouting all over the country presented a solution to make underwear and period hygiene products more accessible to women. I imagined every other street corner stocked with fresh, clean panties and feminine hygiene products readily available to those who need them. Even if it’s a lofty one, I became hooked on the idea.
So when the first community pantry was established along Maginhawa Street, I wanted to reach out and ask if they would accept donations of repacked clean underwear and sanitary pads. Then I got word that a community pantry already existed on the same street as our apartment. Even better, the Matatag Street community pantry was also providing feminine hygiene products, as well as actively advocating for VAWC laws and HIV testing—causes close to my heart!
With the help of Ivanka Custodio of the Matatag Community Pantry, we managed to distribute the first batch of re-packed new underwear for kids and adults, and dozens of sanitary pad packets under The Community Panty Project. Within an hour of posting the endeavor on the Community Pantry PH Facebook page, hundreds of virtual strangers expressed support. A generous lady from Cebu immediately sent her GCash donation to buy more feminine hygiene products.
The reception to this project is heartening (if a bit overwhelming), and I am inspired at its organic growth since I jokingly brought up the idea of panties and pantries to my husband over breakfast.
They also hoped the initiative wouldn’t get ‘red-tagged’ (insert collective groan here)
And yes, I fully recognized how easily the word “pantry” lends itself to the pun that will eventually become this initiative’s name.
Family and friends joked about having plenty of “supporters” for The Community Panty Project. They also hoped the initiative wouldn’t get “red-tagged” (insert collective groan here). A high school friend came up with a cutely apropos alternate name for it: “Pass Adore”, after the Filipino term “pasador” for sanitary pad (insert collective awww here).
(Of course, I responded with a hearty “Thong-q!”)
Even more family and friends—and occasional strangers—have given and pledged financial and moral support to the Community Panty Project. Several members of the Community Pantry Philippines group on Facebook reached out and either sent donations to the initiative, or commented that they plan to do something similar in their areas. This has made me very happy.
I also got some much-welcome feedback about introducing menstrual cups, reusable pads, tampons, diapers, and other hygiene items for kids and even men in the future. I take these suggestions to heart and plan to implement them as soon as I get a more organized system up and running at home. I plan to keep paying it forward, but with an eye on the bigger picture this time.
Periods should never add to one’s financial burden, or become stigmatized to the point that it renders a woman immobile and feeling helpless. If there is one thing I’ve learned during this lengthy lockdown, it’s that you should never take preparedness for something as predictable as a period for granted. If there is something that can be done—albeit temporarily—for other women to not go through a traumatic experience due to the lack of feminine hygiene products, then I would try my darndest to get others involved to make them more available. I would love to have other people contribute to the dignity of women in our communities, even if it’s in the form of simple feminine hygiene kits.
As I mentioned in a social media post, I plan to sustain this for as long as I possibly can, with the help of family, friends, and everyone else who thinks this is a worthy initiative.
To everyone who supported and will support The Community Panty Project—tagos-pusong pasasalamat po sa inyo (pun unabashedly intended).