Feminitt breaking period poverty barriers with Safe Cycle

Access to feminine products in Feminitt Caribbean’s care banks is free and those in need can send a WhatsApp or email request. - Cass'Mosha Centeno
Access to feminine products in Feminitt Caribbean’s care banks is free and those in need can send a WhatsApp or email request. - Cass'Mosha Centeno

Feminitt Caribbean has launched a Safe Cycle project in rural areas in TT, geared towards ending period poverty and promoting menstrual equity.

The project installed a care bank at Ballantyne Road, Five Rivers, Arouca, on November 7, which was stocked with feminine products that have been made available at no cost to women and girls, as well as for transgender men and nonbinary persons who menstruate and were in need.

Care banks in Phenoix Park, Claxton Bay and Buenos Ayres in Point Fortin are scheduled to be opened at the end of November. Other areas would follow eventually, Ashlee Burnett, founder and CEO of Feminitt Caribbean said.

The group, she explained was a non-governmental organisation (NGO) geared towards advancing gender justice in the Caribbean through education, conversation and social good using an intersectional Caribbean feminist lens.

The Safe Cycle project was launched in August 2020 and was partly funded via a grant from Women Deliver, an international NGO.

“Safe Cycle is a project to rally an end to period poverty in TT. The reality is that it still exists, and this was evident through our conversations with social workers and other people who work within communities.

Top from left: Deidra Williams, founder, DENT; Chanelle Beatrice, director and communications and outreach officer.
Bottom from left: Ashlee Burnett, founder and director, Feminitt Caribbean; and Xala Ramesar, director and head of visual arts and design, Feminitt Caribbean. - Cass'Mosha Centeno

“A lot of people do not reach out for help when menstruating because of the shame attached to it, mostly because of cultural and religious stigmas. So, Safe Cycle is aimed at debunking that as well as rallying for free period products, but we know that will take some time.” Burnett said.

Within the initial plan of the Safe Cycle project was the distribution of 120 period kits across the country which would include about two to three months' supply of feminine products.

In 2016 the government removed value-added tax from sanitary towels and tampons, but Burnett said many people still struggled with the affordability of these products because the prices were still too high.

The covid19 pandemic, Burnett said, exacerbated the need to save money since jobs and livelihoods were hanging by a thread. The Safe Cycle project showed and gave women the option to use more sustainable products.

She added that people were interested in using more sustainable products, but the lack of water in communities continued to prevent safe hygiene.

“In order to use a menstrual cups or reusable pads there must be clean running water, consistently, and we all know that is an issue in TT.

“Because of this only five people opted to use the reusable products. The products can last up to five years as long if they are taken care of properly. So that is five years of savings.”

Feminitt care bank located at Ballantyne Road, Five Rivers, Arouca. The initiative falls under the Safe Cycle project which provides free access to feminine products to people in need in an effort to curb period poverty in TT. - Cass'Mosha Centeno

The Safe Cycle project was also seeking to advocate for the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services to issue 150 period cards to 150 low-income families.

According to the UN Population Fund (UNPF), formerly the UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), safe menstruation was a basic human right and menstruation-related exclusion, shaming and lack of proper facilities undermined the principle of human dignity.

It described period poverty as, “increased economic vulnerability people face due the financial burden posed by menstrual supplies that not only include menstrual pads and tampons, but also related costs such as pain medication and underwear.”

Burnett said, unfortunately, women were still uncomfortable to speak about menstruation and the issues they faced, even if it meant getting the required assistance.

Conversations about menstruation were important because not everyone experienced the same issues, and the most severe cases would need medical attention, she explained.

“There were girls between 10 and 17 years-old who did not understand what menstruation was about and chalked it up to being gross or unclean or a punishment from God, and this was based on the informal information they received.

“Women were still uncomfortable asking for help because in some cases they seemed to be irresponsible for not being to provide the necessary items. But there were genuine cases where some people cannot afford it.”

Burnett said the rate of period poverty was shocking in TT, both in rural communities and non-rural communities and access to menstruation materials did only include availability to pads and tampons but also affordability in the quality of the product, adequate water for a safe cycle and being able to visit a gynaecologist when needed.

“We all take for granted a visit to the gynaecologist. Some women experience extreme pain but because this has been normalised, the pain factor is dismissed. This is unfortunate because a lot of women go undiagnosed with medical conditions. A lack of education is a key factor in period poverty.”

In July after a survey conducted by Feminitt in TT a subsequent report titled The Safe Cycle report found that 51.5 per cent said period products were not affordable, 39.9 per cent found it was sort of affordable, and the remaining 8.6 per cent agreeing that it was affordable.

The survey also showed that 16.4 per cent of the respondents missed school, work and/or an event due to lack of period products. 3.4 per cent of the respondents would occasionally miss school, work and/or an event due to lack of period products, while the remaining 80.2 per cent did not.

Additionally, Feminitt data showed that 44.5 per cent of respondents knew or thought they knew someone who cannot afford period products, 28.8 per cent of the participants were unable to afford menstrual products themselves. An average of $100 was spent per month, per person on period products.

The cost between two popular brands for a 24-pack of the same type of sanitary pads was $23 and $34. A ten-pack tampon ranged between $27 and $30.

Burnett said the Feminitt has also been working with other organisations to put forward policy to the relevant authorities to address period poverty, gender-based violence and other related issues.

“It is not something that has been on the forefront being addressed. There has not been any kind of intervention that really pushed the barrier towards placing pressure on the authorities and the government to intervene to have legislation or something that would have caused a shift in championing and ending the stigma against menstruation.”

Other recommendations from Feminitt included a sexual and reproductive healthcare hotline, a comprehensive sexuality education programme in schools, period poverty and menstrual equity within the larger framework of sexual and reproductive health and rights and human rights, and an inclusive and intersectional approach of advocating and addressing menstrual health; LGBTQIA+ community and persons living with a disability, among others.

Access to the products in care banks is free and people in need of the items remain anonymous. To access the care banks a WhatsApp message can be sent to 735-9828 or email feminitt@gmail.com. For people wishing to lend assistance to feminitt the above contacts can also be used to make donations. More about feminitt can be found on their Facebook and Instagram pages @feminitt


"Feminitt breaking period poverty barriers with Safe Cycle"

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