Battling Period Poverty
16-year-old Lily Wilson makes it her mission
Sixteen-year-old Lily Wilson knows that on any given day, at least one of her female classmates will walk the halls of Senior High School and will face the shame of having her period without having feminine products on hand.
“I am lucky enough. I’ve never had to deal with that,” Lily says. But in doing research for a high school project, all signs pointed to a serious need. The issue has been dubbed “period poverty,” and the statistics show one in five American girls miss all or part of a school day because of their periods. The research also shows most low-income students equate menstruation with shame.
“If these products were easily in the bathrooms, they could continue their education and not have to miss days or make up work,” Lily says. “It just seems like an obvious need.”
She’s tackling the need head-on with a Go Fund Me page designed to get product dispensers in every girl’s bathroom in the high school.
“I compared a map of the Senior High School district and poverty rates in billings. The Senior High School district definitely overlapped more with the impoverished areas of town,” Lily says, adding, “There are a lot of homeless girls at Senior.”
Right now, neither the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the federal food stamp program, nor the Women, Infants & Children program allows women to use subsidized funding to purchase feminine hygiene products.
“It’s horrible. Imagine having to choose between your food and your hygiene products for the month,” Lily says. “It’s a financial burden yet you need them every month. There’s no way around it.”
“It’s something our school definitely needs,” says Senior High Principal Jeff Uhren. “We’re an old school. We don’t always have the funds to update things like this.”
Right now, feminine products are available at both the attendance and counselor’s offices, but Lily says if you have a class on the third floor, it’s a hike to access the free products. A girl might have to miss a good chunk of her class time just to walk down three flights of stairs, wait for assistance, head to the bathroom and then back up to class.
“Not only is it a hassle but it is embarrassing. I am pretty sure some of the attendance offices have men present. You don’t want to go down there during the middle of the day,” Lily says.
Lily estimates it will cost about $300 to get one dispenser in one bathroom. All told, the cost would be roughly $2,000 to equip all the bathrooms. From there, Lily would like the rest of her funding to be set aside to keep each dispenser stocked.
“If I got additional money, I definitely want to do this across the city,” Lily says. “I know West and Skyview don’t have something like this.”
Lily’s mom, Mamie Wilson, says her daughter has always been passionate about her causes. When she came home one day and shared her idea, her mom was surprised.
“I feel like my generation, we just didn’t talk about this stuff,” Mamie says. “Maybe you talked with your friends but I don’t think I talked to my dad once about having my period. Telling him about Lily’s project was a little hard. He thought it was amazing.”
Aside from serving a need, Lily says she hopes the project helps break the stigma of menstruation. She doesn’t think something all women endure should be a point of shame. She’s hoping by the time school starts next fall, the dispensers will be installed and some of her classmates can breathe a little easier.
“The freshman girls coming in will never have to go to high school and not have access to those products, which I just think is so cool,” Lily says. “It’s not something that they should have to worry about when they are coming to school to learn.”
TO LEARN MORE and contribute to Lily Wilson’s cause, visit her Go Fund Me page at gofund.me/25a09612.