Trinity High School sophomore and Girl Scout Naiya Baskin-Stewart has embarked on a mission to ensure menstruation education is available to every young person with a uterus. With the help of her Girl Scout troop and her school’s Women Supporting Women organization, of which she is an executive board member, Baskin-Stewart is gathering funding and supplies to bring period products and informational materials to local middle schools.
“I don’t think that it’s something to be embarrassed about,” Baskin-Stewart said of periods.
Menstruation has been widely stigmatized throughout history. Periods have been labeled unclean, impure, repulsive. These patently false beliefs have been compounded by marketing which long used clinical blue liquid, rather than something more reminiscent of blood, to demonstrate the effectiveness of menstrual products.
Whether intentional or not, these depictions serve to instill an internalized sense of shame in adolescent individuals, who are already going through confusing and uncomfortable bodily changes. All of this makes it uncomfortable for many young menstruating people to ask questions about their monthly cycles.
“Most parents don’t really explain what a period is and what it’s for,” said Baskin-Stewart. “They just usually explain the baseline of, if you have a period, then you can have a baby.”
Her own mother, Terez Stewart, had a similar experience when she got her first period. She remembers getting essentially zero explanation for what was happening.
“I got a pad and was told to go to the bathroom and manage it,” Stewart said. “I had no conversation.”
Not everyone has consistent periods each month, especially when individuals are highly active as a lot of adolescents are. Baskin-Stewart acknowledged that irregularity may add to the confusion and even cause fear.
As part of her menstruation initiative, Baskin-Stewart wants to approach education in a less formal way than watching a video in health class. Her idea is to make it something more along the lines of an older mentor showing younger students the ropes. Informative posters will be put in middle school bathrooms, with her school coordinating with the local Oak Park and River Forest middle schools to allow this.
“It’s a more peer-to-peer conversation versus a parent conversation,” she said.
Along with the posters, she will also ensure that each bathroom is stocked with pads and tampons, as well as instructions explaining how to use them and when to change them. There will also be a variety of different products so that whoever needs them can find the one best suited for the needs of their bodies.
All budgeted out, Baskin-Stewart needs $6,000 to keep the bathrooms stocked. Donations can be made to her mother’s PayPal account: @terezbaskin. Tax information will be provided.
Once the funds are raised, the products purchased and the posters made, Baskin-Stewart and other student volunteers will make trips to the local middle schools, putting their period kits in the bathrooms. She made it clear to the volunteers that this was not just an excuse to get out of school early.
“I explained to them that if they think that this opportunity is just for them to miss school, then they will not be participating,” Baskin-Stewart said.
Menstruation education and access to products is important to Baskin-Stewart, especially considering the high cost of tampons and pads. A pack of 36 tampons costs about $8 without tax. That may sound not that expensive, but tampons should be changed every four to eight hours and periods could last anywhere from three days to a full calendar week. Getting all this information out in the open can help to destigmatize periods and improve reproductive health.
“It’s important for everyone to just speak up or be open with the information that they have, and hopefully that can help someone who’s in need,” she said.