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Bridget Hoyt leads the rally in chants as participants hold signs behind her.

Photo Credit: Paige Allen / The Daily Princetonian

On Saturday, Oct. 19, several local organizations teamed up with Period, a national nonprofit founded by Nadya Okamoto and dedicated to ending period poverty and stigma, to host a rally, part of the first-ever National Period Day. Nationally, organizers held more than 60 coordinated rallies, across 50 states and four countries.

The Princeton rally was held from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Hinds Plaza, with around 100 community members present.

The event was coordinated by lead organizers Annabelle Jin, a junior in high school and co-president and founder of the chapter of Period at Moorestown High School; Tanvi Koduru, a sophomore in college and the chapter leader and founder of Period at Rowan University; and Chai Kim, a senior in high school and co-president of Period at Moorestown.

Jin began the rally with a story about a personal experience with period stigma when a friend who unexpectedly got her period “bled through her pants because she didn’t want to tell her male teacher that she had an emergency.”

“Periods are a social justice issue. It is not just a bodily fluid,” Jin said in her speech. “The truth is, National Period Day in and of itself is historical. Never before in the history of the nation has there been a coordinated effort with rallies in all 50 states focused on addressing the issues of period poverty and period stigma.”

Gil Gordon, the project coordinator of the Princeton Period Project, also delivered remarks, addressing what it means to be a non-menstruator in the period movement.

“If this were a man’s issue and we were dealing with a shortage of condoms, you’d see a bucket on every street corner,” said Gordon, whose organization has distributed more than 60,000 period products in the last year. 

Julie Sullivan-Crowley, the Director of Operations of the Princeton chapter of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), spoke about the financial burden of period products.

“YWCA's mission is to eliminate racism and empower women,” Sullivan-Crowley wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’ “Period poverty and tampon tax are an inequitable barrier to the economic stability of women, girls and those who menstruate. We provide free menstruation product for those in need at all of our locations in Mercer County and support the end to the tampon tax in all states.”

Other speakers included Linda Willimer of I Support the Girls North/Central Jersey, who spoke about her organization’s efforts to provide period products, bras, and underwear; Kayleigh Rhatigan and Leila Moustafa, interns for the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice, who spoke about insufficient and weaponized access to period products in prisons; Caitlin Bradley of HiTOPS, who advocated for expanding preconceived notions about who menstruates to include “all genders, shapes, sizes and expressions;” and Hailey Parikh, an activist featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary “Period. End of Sentence,” who discussed her experience with period stigma growing up in India.

“The very mission of our Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice is to represent marginalized communities, but indeed never to speak for anyone, but to speak with everyone,” wrote Robt Seda-Schreiber, Chief Activist of the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice, in an email to The Daily Princetonian. “This important rally organized by such inspirational young women was an ideal opportunity for such [and] we were honored to be of some small service on this day.”

The rally’s calls to action — delivered by Anjali Mehrotra, President of National Organization for Women New Jersey; Sharanya Pogaku, a high school senior who founded Period Kid Packing Parties; Niyati Bantval, an outreach coordinator for the event; and Zhamilya Bilyalova, another outreach coordinator — included sharing ways that community members may participate, addressing the stigma, and supporting New Jersey legislation NJ S3645/A3868. 

The legislation would require menstrual products in 50 percent of bathrooms in New Jersey public schools where 40 percent of the student population lives below the federal poverty line. For the activists at the rally, while the legislation is a step in the right direction, an ideal bill would require products in all bathrooms in all districts.

“We believe that period products should be provided in all schools because setting economic standards or requirements for this would mean that students suffering from period poverty in districts that don’t meet the requirement would not be able to get the benefits of it,” Jin told the ‘Prince.’

In addition, the activists argued that the language included in the bill, namely the term “feminine hygiene,” implies that only women get periods, dismissing the experience of menstruators who may identify otherwise (such as members of the trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer communities) and that the term “hygiene” suggests that periods are dirty or shameful.

Throughout the rally, social media coordinator Bridget Hoyt led chants with calls and responses like, “Menstrual products are a right / step right up and join the fight” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho / period poverty’s got to go.” Organizers of the rally wore red and white shirts reading “we are the menstrual movement,” and rally participants held signs with messages like “menstrual hygiene is a right, not a privilege” and “anything you can do, I can do bleeding.”

Eliana Cohen-Orth ’21 attended the rally because she was “very excited to hear that such an important and underappreciated issue was receiving national attention.”

“I went to the rally to show my support, and to learn more about the movement,” Cohen-Orth wrote in a message to the ‘Prince.’

Preeti Iyer ’20, who has been leading the Menstrual Product Task Force at the University for the past two-and-a-half years, spoke at the rally and shared her experience with successfully pressing the University to install Aunt Flow menstrual products across campus.

Iyer told the ‘Prince’ that she was asked to speak at the rally to provide “engagement with the University.”

“The rally’s focus and the demographics and the base of everyone that came was really off-campus; it was a rally focused on the New Jersey broader community,” Iyer said. “It was just a good chance to have some University projects interfacing with the local community to have that broader awareness and recognition for how we fit into the Princeton/New Jersey ecosystem overall.” 

Koduru, a sophomore at Rowan University, founded her chapter of Period in May after her university repeatedly refused to restock menstrual products, leaving menstrual products available in only one bathroom on campus. She told the ‘Prince’ how thrilled she was to see young women of color at the helm of this movement.  

“I’m such a big advocate for Gen Z and pushing Gen Z forward and making sure that they have a space and a seat on the table to speak their opinions and their voice because it matters, and it’s what’s going to matter in a couple years when they’re the ones running the world,” Koduru said. “Seeing not just Gen Z there, but Gen Z women of color … It was just so surreal for me to see them there. Who I am was being represented by people beyond just me and a few other people. There was a big mass of representation of my culture and my identity.”

The co-hosts of the event were Planned Parenthood, Womanspace, the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, the YWCA of Princeton, the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice, National Organization for Women of New Jersey, Princeton HiTOPS, I Support the Girls of Central and South New Jersey, Girl Up, Kali, and the Essex County LGBT Reaching Adolescents in Need Foundation.

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