Students work to eliminate period stigma

Abby Dalke and Haley Schulberg are confronting a problem that nobody likes to talk about, but that impacts perhaps tens of thousands of girls.

The two juniors are co-presidents of Project Dot, a Lincoln club that aims to raise money for feminine hygiene products for girls in Third World countries. They plan to raise funds throughout the year but to educate fellow students on menstruation.

While the club itself only got started over the summer, Project Dot’s first steps began with journalist Jane Greenhalgh’s trip to Nepal this past summer for an NPR story on 15-year-old girls. There, she saw girls forced to sleep outside and forbidden from touching others because they were on their periods.

It just so happens that Schulberg mother and Greenhalgh are running buddies, and the story travelled through the grapevine.  When Schulberg heard about it, she was intrigued.

“My mom and I were talking about how it would be great to take the problem to Lincoln so we can do something about it from a high school perspective,” she says.

Enter Schulberg’s best friend, Dalke. Together, they brainstormed a list of names for their group and settled on Project Dot.

The next step was members.

They knew it could be a hard sell, so they went all-out at the club fair in September, sporting a menstrual pad-covered poster.

The reaction was just about what people might expect.

“You could see some students kind of looked at it, judged it and laughed with their friends,” Schulberg says.

That’s not to say the fair wasn’t a success, though. The two had 160 sign-ups and, so far, a steady base of 20 to 30 students attend each meeting. Of those consistently attending, three are  males.

“They really want to help but they also feel really uncomfortable,” says Dalke.

Club member Josie Savaria-Watson is not shy about expressing her feelings surrounding the stigma. At the club’s most recent meeting, she asked the club “Can you believe that half our population has periods and guys cannot handle it?”

This represents the stigma associated with menstruation, say the co-presidents.

“Having two guys show up to our club meetings, that right there shows the taboo,” says Schulberg. “That’s what we’re trying to eliminate. Periods should be something that we can talk about because half the population of the world is dealing with it.”

Dalke couldn’t agree more.

“There’s a problem here, a problem in our own backyard,” she says.

In America, feminine hygiene products are not covered by food stamps, so that’s just one more problem homeless women must solve.  

“It’s almost considered a luxury item here,” Dale says. “It’s not a luxury to be able to just stay clean.”

Dalke and Schulberg have been surprised by the amount of support they have found. “I see people in the hall who tell me that they’re really excited about it,” she Schulberg. “It’s just because it’s something really unique and hasn’t really been brought to a high-school level at Lincoln.”

The club’s unique goals was what first interested junior Carly Allen in joining.

“You see a lot of helping people in poverty and this is a more specific issue about helping girls overcome their issues,” she says.

Her fellow club member Larsen Hodges agrees.

“I’d never really heard of an issue like this and it was interesting to learn about it and realize how much of an issue it is,” she says.

“People are excited and interested in the day and shocked, also, that girls their age are struggling with this, with not being able to go to school because they’re on their periods while here we don’t give it a second thought.”

Problems in developed countries pale to those in the Third World, however. Girls are forced to sleep outside and considered poison when menstruating.

“One girl was blamed for her dad getting cancer because she touched him when she was on her period,” says Schulberg says about a story she heard about Nepal. “It’s kind of hard to change that culture, so we’re want to raise money to send reusable feminine hygiene products.”

Their first fundraiser is scheduled for early January. The plan? A pancake breakfast. The event won’t be all pancakes, though. The club hopes to incorporate an educational piece to teach people about the problem and outreach methods.

The club is divided into different committees to make tasks easier, like a promotional committee, an educational committee and a fundraising committee.

Once they’ve raised the money, Dalke and Schulberg are planning to donate it to Be Girl, a non-profit which distributes disposable hygiene products in poor countries.

Disposability is a significant problem in third-world countries. The co-presidents absolutely want to avoid contributing to litter, especially in bodies of water, where the used products can wind up. Reusable pads are the best way to avoid this.

Club meetings are held in Room 115.