Ashley Novoa was born and bred on the South Side of Chicago, in the neighborhood of Pilsen. As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, the 2016 American presidential election left her feeling horrified by the outpouring of hate toward Latinos and women. She was overwhelmed by fear of what would happen to her loved ones who would be impacted by the administration’s violence toward minorities. She knew she could not just sit back and watch her peers be attacked and have their rights taken away. Instead, she transformed her newfound energy into motivation to channel her distress into something positive for marginalized communities.
Her altruistic quest did not begin until she happened upon a video that crystalized one struggle she felt she could work toward eliminating: period poverty. Watching Bustle’s NSFWomen docuseries about how homeless people cope with their periods made her feel very fortunate that she grew up with access to menstrual health care. While Novoa never experienced period poverty herself, the struggle felt close to home, as her mother relied on assistance from the government and church when she was a child.
The video educated Novoa about how period inequities affect all aspects of people’s lives. “Menstruation is the simplest form of reproductive justice. I am determined to make sure every person in Chicago has access to period supplies so that no part of their life is interrupted, whether that is their health, having to miss school or work,” she says.
Period poverty is the lack of access to menstrual care products due to financial barriers. Those who cannot afford to purchase period supplies may use socks, paper, or rags in place of menstrual pads or tampons. A 2019 St. Louis University study found that around two-thirds of low-income women could not afford period products. Seventy percent of menstruating people rely on tampons, which costs up to $1,700 in a lifetime. Period care should not be a luxury — it is a human right.
This expense has left many menstruating people without affordable period care options. “We did not ask to get our periods. The fact that we have to pay anything at all is a shame. Period products are an expensive…