Rose was 11 when she first started her period. She knew nothing about menstruation before then, and she was shocked, but her mother assured her it was normal. However, the family had no money for menstrual hygiene products, and Rose had to stay home from school for several days every month. When she was 12, an older man in her village offered to buy sanitary napkins for Rose if she would be his “girlfriend.” Because she felt like she had no other choice, she agreed. Many of her friends were in similar relationships with older men, and some had already gotten pregnant and dropped out of school.
According to research from mission-driven consulting firm FSG, 65% of girls in Kenya cannot afford menstrual products. Many of them resort to homemade alternatives such as rags, blankets, pieces of mattress, or tissue paper. Others share used sanitary napkins with their friends. And others, like Rose, engage in transactional sex with older men to meet their basic needs, including menstrual pads.
Meeting the needs of girls in Kibwezi
For the past several months, members of the Pixie Cup team have been working closely with organizations and individuals helping to deliver menstrual products to girls in the Kibwezi area of Kenya.
One of these non-profits, Generation Next, was the very first organization we partnered with in our Buy One, Give One program. Since 2017, Generation Next has been including Pixie Cups in the menstrual hygiene kits they distribute to rural communities and schools. We were so excited to have the opportunity to visit some of these schools, catch up with what Generation Next has been doing, and talk to some of the girls who have received Pixie Cups!
I spoke with Pixie Cup team members Emma Moore and Jill Moore to learn more about Pixie Cup’s impact in Kenya.
Karen: How does period poverty affect girls in Kenya?
Jill: We visited about seven different primary and secondary schools, and at each one, we heard the same story. Many of the girls miss 4-5 days of school every month because they don’t have access to menstrual products.
Emma: Most of the families are truly too poor to afford personal hygiene products, but there’s also some resistance from the families, especially on the part of the mother. She will say that no one ever provided those things for her, so she won’t provide them for her daughter.
Apparently the Kenyan government used to provide sanitary pads for every female student up until 2019. The teachers and principals could go and collect what they needed and bring them back for the students. But with the new administration, that is no longer happening. Everything has gotten worse for schools. They no longer provide meals for students like they used to, either. Some school staff will try to help the girls, but obviously they’re simply not able to provide for all of the students.
Karen: What do girls do when they don’t have access to menstrual products?
Emma: Girls often rely on older men for help. Older men offer to pay for their personal care products in return for sexual favors. Some of these men have boda bodas (motor bikes) and will give the girls rides to and from school, so they form a “relationship,” which allows these sort of transactions to take place.
The teachers talk to the girls and try to discourage them from engaging in these sorts of relationships, but most of them receive no help from their families, so they do it anyway. Many of the girls have opened up to their teachers and principals about being victims of rape or sexual assault. Some of the girls have more than one sexual partner. Most of them don’t know much about menstrual health, and they don’t understand the risks of STDs or unwanted pregnancy.
Between five and fifteen girls per grade drop out every year because of early pregnancy, and a lot of them are encouraged to get married at a young age.
Karen: How has Pixie Cup been able to help?
Emma: Right now we’ve been working with Generation Next to help us distribute cups in the Kibwezi area. Riley from Generation Next has been providing care packages for girls for 8 years. She includes panties (many girls don’t have any), bar soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, detergent, reusable pads, and our menstrual cup.
Riley went above and beyond to graciously host us twice at her place so we could distribute Pixie Cups to the girls in the local schools, which she arranged for us. We were able to see the beautiful school she built completely from the proceeds of her thrift store and all the kids whose lives she’s changing here — kids she’s had a heart for since she first came here when she was 13 and saw them sharing pens at school.
I asked her if anyone else is doing anything for girls in the area, and there didn’t seem to be any other programs. There might be the occasional NGO (non-governmental organization) that comes in, but not very often.
Jill: We’ve donated to a few local ministries as well, and have also worked with a missionary here who has been training nurses to go to their various clinics and distribute cups and teach women in the area how to use them.
Emma: We’re also getting ready to work with Project Imagine, a high school student-led initiative that has previously distributed sanitary pads to girls in Kenyan schools but wants to give a more sustainable option.
When girls are provided with access to sustainable menstrual products, along with better education about menstrual health and valuing their bodies, they’re able to stay in school longer.
Karen: What do the girls think about the menstrual cups?
Jill: They love them! The girls we talked to were so happy to have something that allowed them to pursue an education without having to befriend an older man in order to get the products they needed. It surprised me how much this little item changed the lives of these girls. I’ve wondered how much of a difference our cups actually make in these girls’ lives and now I know!
Karen: How can people help?
Emma: Spread the word! For every Pixie Cup sold, we donate a cup to one of our partner organizations. Or if you don’t need a cup, you can also make a donation on our website.
Your Pixie Cup purchase helps a woman in need
We’re on a mission to empower every woman in the world with a life-changing period by putting a Pixie Cup in their hands through our Buy One, Give One program. It’s a big mission, but with your help, we can do it. As of today, we’ve given over 135,000 cups to those experiencing period poverty — and we won’t stop until every single woman or girl in need has the resources to manage her period with dignity. Visit our online store.
Combating period poverty is a big part of our mission at Pixie Cup. In fact, you could even say it’s why we exist. We believe that no one should have to go without the basic supplies necessary for managing their periods with dignity. Unfortunately, many people all over the world don’t have access to period products, which can negatively impact their development, health, and economic opportunities.
You may have heard the term “period poverty” before, but what does it really mean? Who is affected by period poverty? And how can we work together to stop it?
What does period poverty mean?
Period poverty refers to a lack of access to menstrual supplies and education. This includes menstrual products such as pads and tampons, as well as access to clean water and washing facilities.
Many people who menstruate have to choose every month between buying menstrual supplies or buying other basic necessities, including food. People who can’t afford menstrual products may resort to using rags, toilet paper, socks, or paper towels to collect menstrual fluid.
Why is period poverty important?
Period poverty isn’t just an economic issue; it’s also a health issue. Lack of access to period products can lead to major health consequences. Some people, in an effort to extend the life of their menstrual products, may wear pads and tampons for far longer than recommended, which can be dangerous as well as unsanitary. Wearing tampons for too long, wearing a tampon that’s the wrong size, or using other materials internally — such as toilet paper — can lead to toxic shock syndrome — a serious and sometimes fatal health condition.
When women and girls don’t have access to menstrual hygiene products, they may have to miss work or school. Nearly 1 in 5 girls in the U.S. has had to miss school or leave school early due to a lack of access to menstrual products, and 36 percent of women surveyed said they had missed work because they did not have access to period products.
Nearly 1 in 5 girls in the U.S. has had to miss school or leave school early due to a lack of access to menstrual products.
Missed school means missed opportunities for people who menstruate, and the accompanying emotional toll can cause mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
“Adequate menstrual hygiene management is not a luxury,” says Anne Sebert Kuhlmann, an associate professor in the College for Public Health and Social Justice at St. Louis University. “It’s a need. It affects a woman’s sense of self, her sense of dignity and her ability to participate in life.”
Who is affected by period poverty?
Period poverty affects people all over the world. We often hear of women in developing countries who lack access to menstrual products, but period poverty very much affects people in the U.S. as well.
In the U.S., 1 in 5 women struggle to afford menstrual products every month, according to a 2019 study conducted at St. Louis University. Forty-six percent of low-income women have had to choose between a meal or buying period products.
In the U.S., 1 in 5 women struggle to afford menstrual products every month.
Women in the U.S. are already 38% more likely than men to live in poverty, according to the National Women’s Law Center, and low-income women with children face additional challenges. For moms, kids’ needs take priority. Many women will purchase diapers first, and may not have money remaining for menstrual products.
Period poverty among incarcerated women
Period poverty is also a major issue among incarcerated women. As of August 2017, women in federal prisons have access to free tampons, pads, and pantiliners. But state and local jails — where women are more likely to be sent — have yet to pass similar laws.
Women in state prisons may be allocated a certain number of menstrual products each month, and may be forced to beg or barter if they need more. While menstrual products may be available for purchase at the commissary, many prisoners can’t afford to buy more on a salary that amounts to less than a dollar per hour. To make matters worse, menstrual products provided in state prisons are often of such poor quality that inmates may have to use multiple pads at once, and they may be punished if they bleed on their uniforms.
If inmates are forced to improvise, the results can be life-threatening. One incarcerated woman in Maryland got toxic shock syndrome after using toilet paper as a makeshift tampon, and required an emergency hysterectomy.
Period poverty among women experiencing homelessness
More than 216,000 women experience homelessness on any given night in the U.S., and women and families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population. The increased demands on homeless shelters mean that shelters can’t always provide menstrual products to all menstruating residents.
COVID-19 has made period poverty worse
The COVID-19 health crisis has made period poverty even worse. At the height of the pandemic, marginalized populations who were already struggling to afford period products began to face additional challenges as people lost their jobs and store shelves emptied of basic supplies. For many people, the pandemic has created additional hardships such as loss of income, potential homelessness, and a lack of access to basic care, which can make it harder to access menstrual supplies.
Many people who may have had access to menstrual products in schools or public facilities before the pandemic lost that support as schools and other facilities have closed. And social service organizations that rely on volunteers to package and deliver donations to people in need saw their operations come to a halt as volunteers were forced to stay at home.
One in four people between the ages of 13 and 35 reported that it has been harder to manage their periods since the start of the pandemic, according to a survey conducted in May. Fifty-eight percent of participants stated that they had less money to spend on menstrual products due to COVID, and 50% reported that it has been harder to access menstrual products.
The tampon tax
Another issue contributing to period poverty is what’s known as the “tampon tax.” In the United States, individual states have the ability to decide how sales tax is levied. Certain necessities, such as prescription medications, are usually exempt from sales tax. But most states do not consider menstrual products to be necessities, and thus they are subject to sales tax. In some states, menstrual products are taxed at the highest rate.
Sales tax on menstrual products may not seem like a big issue, but for someone already struggling to afford basic necessities, that sales tax is an additional burden. And, it’s a burden that only affects people who menstruate. Also consider that many non-essential items are tax exempt across the U.S. For example, cowboy boots are exempt from sales tax in Texas, and bingo supplies are tax exempt in Missouri.
Period products also aren’t covered by health insurance or Medicaid, and they can’t be purchased with government-assistance programs such as WIC and SNAP.
How can we stop period poverty?
Making sure that everyone has access to menstrual products requires big changes through health and policy initiatives, like global removal of the tampon tax and free menstrual products in schools. Currently only three states — New York, California, and Illinois — provide free menstrual products in schools. Many healthcare providers, organizations, and elected officials are advocating for policy changes related to menstrual hygiene.
While we wait for these legislative changes to make their way through government, there are plenty of things we can do to support people experiencing period poverty in our communities and around the world.
1. End period stigma
A big part of addressing period poverty is ending the stigma that surrounds menstruation. The UN reports that on any given day, 800 million people are menstruating, yet menstrual health remains one of the most taboo topics in the world. The stigma and taboos surrounding menstrual health continue to harm people who menstruate every day.
If people are unable to talk openly about periods and the challenges they face in accessing menstrual products, they are less likely to ask for or receive help.
It’s crucial that we work to normalize conversations about menstruation. Periods are a normal biological function that can tell you a lot about your overall health. Open and honest conversations about menstruation are crucial for arming people with the knowledge they need to manage their periods comfortably, with confidence and dignity.
Language that refers to periods as gross or shameful is very much ingrained in our culture. If you noticed yourself or your friends treating menstruation as if it’s disgusting or something to be ashamed of, challenge yourself to reframe how you look at or talk about periods, and encourage your friends to do the same.
Open and honest conversations about menstruation are crucial for arming people with the knowledge they need to manage their periods comfortably, with confidence and dignity.
2. Join the tampon tax protest
Visit taxfreeperiod.com to learn more about the tampon tax. The Tax Free Period campaign was created by the organization Period Equity, which is calling on all U.S. states to eliminate the tampon tax by Tax Day 2021. When you sign up on their website, they will send a letter to your governor asking for the tampon tax to be abolished in your state if it isn’t already.
5. Buy menstrual products from brands committed to helping women facing period poverty
Many menstrual supply companies, including Pixie Cup, are committed to helping those in need. For every Pixie Cup sold, we donate one to a woman who doesn’t have access to menstrual products. One menstrual cup can last up to 10 years, eliminating the need to buy expensive disposable period products every month. For a woman experiencing period poverty, a menstrual cup can be truly life-changing.
Our Buy One, Give One program recipients
Since we launched our Buy One Give One program in the summer of 2017, we have donated 100,000 menstrual cups to women in need. In 2020, our cups have been distributed to organizations helping women such as:
Days for Girls, who have distributed our cups to various recipients, including Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Navajo Nation
Portland Parks & Recreation Youth Conservation Crew
Convoy of Hope, who have distributed our cups to girls in need in rural school districts
Pixie Cup founder Amber English also recently traveled to Tanzania with WorldServe International, where she distributed 400 menstrual cups to female leaders and teachers in rural areas. Learn more about our work in Tanzania.
Your Pixie Cup purchase helps a woman in need
We’re on a mission to empower every woman in the world with a life-changing period by putting a Pixie Cup in their hands through our Buy One, Give One program. It’s a big mission, but with your help, we can do it. As of today, we’ve given over 100,000 cups to those in period poverty — and we won’t stop until every single woman or girl in need has the resources to manage her period with dignity. Visit our online store.
Pixie Cup founder Amber English recently traveled to Tanzania, where she was able to distribute 400 menstrual cups to female leaders and teachers in rural areas. I sat down with her to talk about her experience there and what menstrual hygiene means for women in Tanzania.
Karen: First of all, how were you able to travel overseas during COVID?
Amber: Tanzania actually has no travel restrictions right now. They recommend that people avoid nonessential travel, but I was able to join a group with WorldServe, who were traveling there to help build wells. We had to fill out a form and have a health screening, but travel was actually pretty easy. I was originally supposed to go to Tanzania in April, but that trip was obviously cancelled, so I was super excited when this opportunity came up!
Karen: Tell me more about WorldServe.
Amber: WorldServe is a really great organization, and they’re also based here in Springfield. They work to eliminate water scarcity in Africa by building deep, solar-powered wells in areas where access to water is scarce. In Tanzania alone, 25 million people still don’t have access to clean water. People often have to walk miles for water, and even then it’s not clean.
We went to one village where a well was being drilled, and we got to see their current water source. Some of them walked an hour to get there, and many women came to the hole four times a day to get water for their families and cattle. It was so exciting to be there when the new solar-powered well was installed and to see how happy they were that they wouldn’t have to walk so far for water anymore!
Karen: How do water scarcity and menstrual hygiene issues affect women in Tanzania?
Amber: Water scarcity everywhere disproportionately affects women and girls. When adequate restroom facilities, clean water, and menstrual products aren’t available, it can make it difficult or impossible for girls to attend school when they have their period. In Tanzania, most girls stop attending school after they start their periods. We met only one girl on our trip who was still attending school after starting her period. She was 15. Even if girls do stay in school, they may have to miss 3-4 days every month while they have their period, and they can fall way behind on their lessons.
The task of collecting water for the family also falls on women and girls, so if they have to walk miles to a water source, that’s another factor that can prevent them from attending school.
Karen: What was the response like to the menstrual cups you distributed?
Amber: They were so excited! The response has been outstanding and they’re already asking for more. We started by educating the female leaders and teachers, so they can get comfortable using a cup themselves, and then they can educate the girls in their community on cup use and menstrual hygiene. They are saying that it’s truly life-changing.
Karen: What do women in Tanzania usually use for menstrual hygiene?
Amber: Schools will sometimes have a small budget for sanitary pads, but it doesn’t go very far. Many women and girls can’t afford menstrual supplies, so they have to use pieces of cloth. Because of cultural taboos, these have to be kept out of sight. And if there’s no clean water, they can’t be properly sanitized. Some women may not even have underwear, so they can’t use pads or cloth. But since menstrual cups are worn inside, lack of underwear isn’t a problem. As long as they have clean water to clean their cup with, they can use a menstrual cup. It was great to be a part of a project that is helping to alleviate both those problems.
Karen: That’s incredible. What’s next for Pixie Cup?
Amber: Next month we’ll pass 100,000 cups donated to women in need around the world. So far we have donated over 91,000 cups. For every cup we sell, we donate one to a woman in need. Many of them go to women in developing countries like Tanzania, and we also partner with organizations that are working to address menstrual equity issues in the U.S. We’re always looking for new donation opportunities!
Karen: How can people get involved?
Amber: If you buy a Pixie Cup, you’re automatically giving a cup to a woman in need! And if you buy a Combo Pack, which contains two cups, we donate two. You can also sign up to help fundraise for WorldServe on their website, or even travel to Africa with them. They’re planning a Mt. Kilimanjaro climb for summer 2021!
Your Pixie Cup purchase helps a woman in need
We’re on a mission to empower every woman in the world with a life-changing period by putting a Pixie Cup in their hands through our Buy One, Give One program. It’s a big mission, but with your help, we can do it. As of today, we’ve given over 90,000 cups to those in period poverty — and we won’t stop until every single woman or girl in need has the resources to manage her period with dignity. Visit our online store.
Christmas is huge. I’m not talking about the trees, the gifts, the traditions, the decorations… I’m talking about the spirit behind it. We smile frequently, we think of ourselves less and we think of others more. When we do that magical things happen: we impact lives. In many ways, just by living outward-focused those few weeks in December. As much as we want to continue thinking of others all year ‘round, before we know it we are caught up in our routines once again.
Here at Pixie Cup we strive for something bigger. We have a mission to touch women around the globe every single day of the year, not just the month of December. We want to impact their lives for the better and that is the basis on which Pixie Cup started, by believing in something bigger than me: we.
Buy One, Give One
Anytime you or someone you know purchases a menstrual cup from us, you’re telling us “Hi, please, now give one to a sister who needs it.”
You, my friend, have started the ripple because that’s exactly what we do. To date, we have donated over 37,000 cups to women in need!
The average woman views her period as an annoyance sometimes, part of life, a hiccup in plans. But in other countries, girls are taken from school or women are forced to stay at home that week every month because of a lack of hygiene products available to them. How about a homeless woman right on American soil? She’s worried most about her next meal or where she’s going to sleep, the safety of herself or children… keeping herself clean falls far after that.
We have amazing partners who link us to the many hands and faces of women around the world. Our most recent partner is The Dream Center, whose sole purpose is linking communities in need with resources. It’s an organization focused on finding solutions to homelessness, hunger, and the lack of education that exists all around us; in places near and far. With a vision to transform the world, each Dream Center strives to provide the help and resources necessary to individuals and communities in need.
We think they are pretty great and we’re so excited to be linking arms with them as the newest addition to our Pixie Cup tribe!
If you’ve already purchased a Pixie Cup, we thank you for being a part of our mission to touch every woman and do our part in eliminating waste. If you haven’t made the leap from disposable menstrual products to a Pixie Cup, you now can feel good about a seemingly small decision making a big impact.
Thank you for all you’ve done, on behalf of our team and all the beautiful faces around the world.
If you know anything about Pixie Cup, you know that we have a heart to reach the whole world and offer freedom to all women in the form of a Pixie Cup.
We get to hear the messages of lives changed, and see pictures of the girls that receive our free cups and are able to work and go to school while on their period… but we want you to be able to experience this, too! After all, it wasyour choice to purchase a Pixie Cup that provided these girls with period freedom. We could not do this without you.
So, today we are thrilled to share with you a little glimpse of the big blue sky that is the impact of our Buy One Give One program! We hope you enjoy this interview with Riley Snyder, author of Riley Unlikely and founder of an incredible program called Generation Next that is focused on educating children in Kenya!
Can you tell us a little bit about your story?
“I started Generation Next after my first trip to Kenya when I was 13 years old. While I was there, I was helping first and second graders learn English and, while I was helping them, each of my students – there were 10 at my table – used one short pencil there were no extra writing utensils in the classroom. Most kids can’t afford to go to school so the fact that they were sitting in a classroom without the equipment to learn was where I first got started. Our organization is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides students in Kenya with school supplies, young girls with hygiene supplies, and we also have a school in Kenya that provides a free education as well as a feeding program for over 240 students.”
How does menstruation affect the lives of women in Kenya?
“Many young girls who get the (rare) opportunity to go to school have a hard time staying in school while on their period. Most do not have the resources to take care of their monthly cycle in a clean and healthy way. Most girls use rags (to staunch the period flow). Many girls will resort to prostitution to get money so that they can buy pads. But, oftentimes the girls will never be given the money or they will become pregnant and will not go back to school.”
How have women’s lives changed since they received menstrual cups?
“Many girls’ lives look different because of the Pixie Cups. The cup allows girls to not have to worry about their period and is keeping them in school.”
Were there any religious or mental challenges that people had to overcome before using the menstrual cups? Was it a comfortable switch for them?
“The biggest question/issue was that girls were worried about is the fear of losing their virginity when using the cup. Most girls in Kenya, and in the village that we are in, have never even used a tampon or seen a tampon so introducing the cup to them was a challenge at first. But many could see, once we taught them how to use it, how it could change their period for the rest of their lives. At first, many were uncomfortable with the idea so our organization also provides reusable sanitary napkins so that, while learning to use the cup, they have the option to switch out while they got used to using the cup more frequently.”
Can you tell us a little about your book?
“I wrote Riley Unlikely when I was 19 years old and it tells the story of how God was able to use one of the most unlikely people to help grow his kingdom. It starts with my first trip to Kenya when I was 13, and goes through the last 10 years of growing an organization at a young age. It also addresses the challenges that were presented along the way – not just within the organization but also within my personal life – and gives readers a real and raw view of what it’s like to follow Jesus. He can use all of us and has a purpose and plan for each of us, but it will always be up to us to say yes when He calls.”
We are so thankful to be able to partner with Riley and Generation Next to share the freedom of period cups with women who never had the chance to live every day with the same amount of freedom… EVERY day of the month.
Do you know anyone whose life has been changed by a menstrual cup? We want to hear your story!! Send us a message or comment below!
There’s only one thing I don’t like about Christmas.
“What could be bad about Christmas?”
I’m going to risk sounding cliche for one moment… I don’t like that Christmas ends. (Are you with me??)
Yes, I’m sad that all the gifts are handed out and nobody plays “The First Noel” on the street corners, but there are more important things that end with Christmas.
At 12:01am on December 26th, everything goes back to normal. People hug each other goodbye and head home to turn off the sparkling Christmas lights. Strangers hold on to that extra dollar instead of dropping it into the Starbucks tip jar with a smile. Call center employees stop wishing their customers a “Merry Christmas,” and charities go unnoticed during those winter months when people need help the most.
Why is it that the “Christmas Spirit” is so quick to leave after the stockings are cleaned out? It’s only a ONE day difference.
This year, we the Pixie Cup team are challenging ourselves to try something new, and we want to invite you to join us. We are going to do our very best to hold onto that giving spirit after this Christmas ends. Christmas is magical because we look around and see the people around us. Christmas is beautiful because of the smiles that strangers exchange when it snows. Christmas is meaningful because we pause our busy lives to tell special people we love them.
Why do people stop being kind? We decided that we will not stop. Christmas is a mindset that we should keep alive and vibrant all year long.
To quote Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”
How are you going to keep the Christmas spirit alive in your heart this coming year?