Medical College of Georgia student Gabriela Duchesne recalls hearing a story that shook her to the core.
An elementary school teacher was walking by the school restroom and heard a child screaming. She frantically rushed in to find a terrified girl bleeding; the young student thought she was dying. She wasn’t. In fact, her body was doing what it’s supposed to do. She had gotten her period and presumably had no clue what has happening.
“A lot of girls don’t get educated from their parents or through school. We want children to know about this and make sure they know this is normal,” said Duchesne. “If we are able to teach these kids about it, maybe period poverty will have less stigma. We hear about food insecurity, but the menstrual movement should not be taboo, either. It’s something everyone should know about.”
Period poverty is a lack of access to menstrual products, hygiene facilities, waste management and education. Duchesne says it should be eradicated and that everyone should understand: Periods are normal; period care should be affordable; and periods are nothing to be ashamed of. That goal is the purpose of PERIOD Augusta University, a new chapter of PERIOD: The Menstrual Movement, launched at the beginning of this year by Duchesne, co-president, and four fellow students.
The organization distributes free menstrual products to communities in need and works to remove the stigma associated with menstruation. Whether in school, prison or any public place, menstruators deserve safe, accessible period management products, according to the organization’s website.
“I think we’re breaking barriers in the Augusta community and the medical community, and it shows we care about the people around us,” said Brittany Sheffield, the organization’s vice president of communications who is studying cardiology. “Just like there is racial inequality in health care, we are raising awareness about menstrual equity.”
Brooke Amero, Katherine Dunn and Madison Beverly complete the executive board and echo Duchesne’s and Sheffield’s sentiments. Each admits that while they did not grow up struggling with period poverty, they willingly bear the burden of those who do.
“I’ve always had access to menstrual products and never been around people who haven’t. Managing a period is difficult anyway, but if you can’t afford products, it makes it more difficult,” said Amero, co-president and aspiring obstetrician.
“We learned menstruators who are homeless sometimes use broken pieces of cardboard and stuff them in their underwear, or they use tampons for longer periods of time, which runs the risk of toxic shock. Hearing that was sad and disheartening. This sparked a movement in me. I felt this organization would be able to make a good difference at AU.”
The students are already making a difference. PERIOD Augusta University has raised $1,751 via GoFundMe, purchased 7,556 products, donated 3,000 products via various free health clinics that partner with Augusta University and participated in health fairs. Their work garnered the group the New Organization of the Year award, presented April 20 by Student Life and Engagement. The award recognizes a new student organization that has demonstrated excellence in programming, leadership and enthusiasm during its first two years of existence. PERIOD Augusta University beat out seven other collegiate groups for the title.
“To be a new organization and hit the ground running in an area of need for our community is remarkable,” said Dr. ShaRon Dukes, director of the Office of Student Life and Engagement.
“It is challenging to find your place as a new organization. The ability to identify and take measurable steps to completing the goal can be hard when it is your first year of operation. This group stepped up to the plate and achieved so much in a short amount of time. I believe this organization will not only help the AU community but also the Central Savannah River Area as a whole.”
Still, though, PERIOD AU wants to do more.
“We are planning a 5K in the fall to raise funds. Having nonprofit status would make raising funds easier as well. We want to partner with businesses and sell merchandise,” said Madison Beverly, an aspiring emergency medicine physician and the organization’s treasurer.
The grassroots group also desires to partner with area schools to educate students about combating period poverty and stigma. Moreover, they want to affect change through state legislation. At least 28 states, including Georgia and South Carolina, have a tampon tax in place, which makes it harder to acquire certain hygiene products. There have been three iterations of proposed legislation to rid the tax in Georgia, dating back to the 2017-18 session; however, none have passed. House Bill 810, sponsored in March 2021 by state Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City), currently is assigned to the Ways & Means Subcommittee.
Meanwhile, those who menstruate reportedly spend an estimated $150 million a year on the sales tax for these items. To add perspective, in some states, you can purchase a candy bar tax-free from a vending machine but not a sanitary napkin.
“I couldn’t imagine having to decide between buying groceries and buying tampons. It would be very hard,” said Beverly. “Those who menstruate don’t want to ask about it because we’ve been taught to be ashamed.”
“It’s disheartening,” added Katherine Dunn, outreach vice president, who plans to be an OB/GYN one day. “If we start talking about periods early on, it would open up dialogue and encourage people to get the help they need from a doctor.”
Until then, this group of medical students will do what it can to help ensure no other young menstruator is scared at the onset of a monthly cycle or another person experiencing homelessness resorts to unsafe and unsanitary measures to meet their period needs. PERIOD Augusta University is even establishing a model for undergraduates to engage more students who want to make a larger impact.
“It’s not just an MCG thing. We want it to be campus-wide.”