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First-ever Cape retreat aims to tackle period poverty

Love Your Menses loveyourmenses.com

A select group of Black and LatinX women and girls will spend this weekend on the Cape, not just to enjoy a getaway, but to learn more about menstruation in the hope of ending what's called period poverty.

CAI's Kathryn Eident talked with Bria Gadsden, executive director of the Boston-based nonprofit Love Your Menses, about the retreat and her group's work on period equity.

Eident Tell us about your organization, Love Your Menses.

Gadsden Yes, Love Your Menses was founded in 2019 in Boston due to the growing menstrual wellness needs of adolescents. So we started off hosting menstrual health education workshops for adolescents. And since then, we've expanded our work to support girls, women, and all people who menstruate across the life span, as well as providing free menstrual products to the community. We are now located in seven countries. I, myself, am a community health educator and my co-founder, Dr. Ebere Azumah, is a board certified OBGYN and a trained doula, as well as a public health professional.

Eident What have you been seeing in the communities you work with in terms of the gap in what's being called period equity?

Gadsden So, one thing that we were seeing was period poverty, which is a lack of access to menstrual products, menstrual health education, and reproductive health care.

We noticed that there are many people who have limited access to period products. And so, some people would use a tampon for longer than they should, or use toilet paper to make a makeshift pad.

And in the United States, it is a growing problem, specifically in Massachusetts across the state. And we wanted to do our part to make sure that people had access to safe menstrual products that are free of any toxic chemicals or fragrances, because a lot of those products, which are relatively cheaper, can have long-term harmful effects on someone's reproductive health.

Eident Coming up this weekend, Love Your Menses is hosting a special retreat for a small group of girls and their parents and guardians. Can you tell us about that?

Gadsden Yes, we're bringing a group of 25 adolescents and their moms. They all identify as Black or LatinX, and they're all from the greater Boston area. So it's an all expense, paid trip through our organization. And the whole point of this weekend is to not only talk about menstruation, but also to rest and relax.

Many members have been dealing with financial insecurity, housing insecurity, food insecurity, community violence and trauma. And all of these factors can increase someone's stress levels, which can negatively affect their period. So, there are many people who have reported having missed periods or irregular periods, and that could be due to an underlying condition, or it could be due to stress, environmental toxins, foods that people are eating.

And so, we wanted to provide an opportunity for people to rest and relax and recharge. So that way, they can truly prioritize their wellness, because unfortunately, many people don't have the opportunity or the luxury to go to Cape Cod and vacation.

Eident Do you find that with some of the women you work with, there is a stigma around menstruation?

Gadsden Yes, we do find that to be the case and in certain cultures as well, menstruation is still very much a taboo. There are many Black girls and women who we've worked with who have said they have fibroids, or endometriosis, or they have really intense period pain that oftentimes goes unnoticed.

However, we're not talking about this as a collective, and so people have these experiences and they think they're alone until they attend a Love Your Menses event, and they realize that they're not alone; there are other women and girls who look just like them, who are also going through similar things.

And, the more we have these conversations in the community, the more we are breaking the taboo. And not just among girls and women, but also men as well. And so, we actually hosted a menstrual equity training for men in Fall River. And I think men are also becoming more open to learning about menstruation and breaking some of those assumptions and misconceptions that they had.

Eident Bria, thanks so much for talking with us about your work and for giving us a preview of this weekend's event.

Gadsden Thank you so much and thank you for reaching out.

Eident That was Bria Gadsden, co-founder and executive director of Love Your Menses. And a special note, Tara Vargas Wallis, the executive director of Amplify POC, Cape Cod, will be a special guest speaker at the event this weekend.

This conversation was lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

Kathryn Eident was the Morning Edition Host and Senior Producer of News until November 2022.