Everyone is Entitled to Menstrual Freedom
We are excited to announce a new DivaCares partnership with Operation Period, a US-based organization that not only provides period care products to their community through its chapter network, but also works on advocacy and various campaigns and programs including education, community engagement and art, to help bring awareness to the growing issue of period poverty.
As part of our partnership, DivaCares supports Operation Period through donations of DivaCups in addition to a $5000 donation to help support their Community Engagement Speakers series. This series will bring activists and thought leaders from the menstrual equity space together to work towards meaningful change for people with periods both in the US and globally.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Operation Period’s founder and executive director Manju Bangalore about the organization, the inspiration behind the work they do and what the phrase “menstrual freedom” means. Be inspired by following along with our dialogue below.
What are some of the services and programs you offer? And who do they help?
Operation Period focuses on five areas: art, advocacy, education, community engagement, and direct aid.
In the art realm, we work with artists, both in-house and external, to create and curate pieces and campaigns that expand people’s imaginations around periods. We just published a zine last month and are working on a few different campaigns for this year.
For advocacy, we are working in two different areas – within the system and outside the system. Our policy team is working within the system for change now, while our advocacy team is focused more on how we can move past temporary reform and explore abolition, decolonization and the intersection those have with menstrual justice. To expand on this, we created the phrase, menstrual freedom, to define the intersections between systems of oppression and how liberation will require the dismantling of transphobia, misogyny and misogynoir, racism, sexism, cissexism, colonization, classism, and ableism.
In the education space, we are working with partners both domestically and internationally to provide educational materials and curriculum to students and young people.
For community engagement, we have a variety of projects we have been leading. We regularly host virtual events and a book club with two partners, Code Red Co and Women’s Relief Initiative. We are also working to create and launch a podcast.
And in terms of direct aid, we provide menstrual products to those in need, particularly houseless and low-income people. To date, we have provided over 200,000 products to those in need. Overseas, we have also provided items like nutritional supplements and funding for doctor’s visits.
We also created International Period Month to build on the extraordinary work period activists have been doing through Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28th. We celebrated the entire month of May last year and hosted over 50 virtual events with 20 partners.
What was the inspiration behind starting Operation Period?
Both my grandmothers were child brides in India. Because they did not have access to proper healthcare, they were not able to pursue their education. Unfortunately, this is still the reality for many people who menstruate across the globe.
While it is not as easy as saying that period products and sanitation facilities are enough to break the cycle of poverty, period products do have the potential to help change the trajectory of someone’s life. Creating more opportunities for the exercise of bodily autonomy allows individuals to break down barriers they previously struggled against. For that reason, Operation Period exists to help create a world where menstruation holds no one back.
What drew you to period activism specifically?
I grew up with a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and access to healthcare. I was drawn to working in the period space because I want everyone to have the access and opportunities I have had.
What does menstrual freedom mean to you?
We believe in a world where everyone is entitled to the irrefutable right of menstrual freedom. Menstrual freedom is the abolition of social, political and economic systems and situational barriers that prohibit individuals from experiencing menstruation in an empowering and dignified way. It is a world where periods hold no one back.
This term seeks to name the boundaries pushed by many menstrual justice organizations in the last few years. We have used the term menstrual equity as the umbrella our work falls under, but for many, the heart of menstrual equity is access to hygiene products, facilities to use them, and information. This does not necessarily interrogate the oppressive power structures that breed and facilitate menstrual inequity.
As it stands, menstruation is a taboo subject that either relegates individuals into the shadows or, at worst, costs them their lives. State-sanctioned sites of menstrual repression exist because of a systemic commitment to deny bodily autonomy and individual sovereignty to the most vulnerable members of society. We believe that agency and consent are lifesaving, therefore the fight for menstrual freedom goes hand in hand with abolishing white supremacy, gender-based discrimination, and profit from exploitation.
What are the top 3 lessons you’ve learned so far?
- Your vision is never too big! Whatever you can dream of it is possible. People along the way will tell you it is impossible or unrealistic, but if you have faith in your vision, it is possible. Perhaps not alone, and perhaps not without help – but it is possible.
- You are almost never the first: It is easy for young people in this space to claim that they are the pioneers in this work, but that is almost never the case. We, as young people, are building on a legacy formed by decades of labor and passion.
- Your fight is not over if you have not fought for everyone: Since our inception in February of 2015, we have used gender-inclusive language because not just women bleed and not all women bleed. So, when doing this work, it is imperative that not only our language is inclusive, but our actions are as well. If nonbinary and trans people are not included in your fight for menstrual freedom, you have not won the war.
Is there anything else you feel is important for us, and our readers, to know?
Advocacy work may look intimidating from the outside, but the truth is, anyone can do it. You do not need a certain amount of experience or education to advocate for what you are passionate about. If something moves you in your core, then join an organization that works on that issue. And if the organization you are looking for doesn’t exist, find some people and make it. You have everything you need within you to make it happen.