Monday, December 14, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Council committee hears update on effort to ensure menstrual equity

Members of the City Council Health and Human Services Committee considered an update on a Menstrual Equity Initiative, and how to fund it, at their most recent meeting.

Meg Moore, community associate for the District 1 office, brought an update about the initiative, which has been underway for the past six weeks and currently consists of two pilot programs. The initiative’s aim is to make sure that “Austinites’ lives are not limited or restricted by menstruation.”

Moore said they are hoping to partner with two programs from the Housing Authority of the City of Austin. One adds period products to Covid-relief packs for households exposed to or testing positive for Covid-19. HACA is also planning to provide PPE packs to its residents, which Moore called “an easy distribution channel.”

Moore said the city is also working with the Austin Independent School District on the possibility of including the products with the meals it provides to the community. Before the pandemic, she noted, period products were available for free in counselors’ offices, but that option is no longer available during distance learning. However, the current scope of the school district’s program, which offers about 200,000 meals per week, is beyond the pilot’s capacity.

“We just don’t have the funding to get these products,” she said. Moore told the committee that, to get the pilot up and running, they would need about $10,000.

“That’s an order of magnitude we ought to be able to find,” Council Member Ann Kitchen said. “This is so important and it’s something that gets overlooked a lot.”

Council Member Kathie Tovo agreed, saying she had a “couple ideas” about where to find funding for the pilot.

In addition to distribution, a separate pilot program has created an educational video, which is able to be implemented now. Moore explained that existing educational programs aimed at young women approaching menarche have been impacted by the pandemic, which has shut down the girls’ clubs, schools and other meeting places that used to host in-person educational events.

Another challenge, she said, is that Austinites who do not identify as girls may be experiencing increased stigma, shame and difficulty in getting good information about their approaching menstruation.

“The wonderful thing about this video is that this is something that can be offered to any and all Austinites without needing to make it too public,” Moore said.

“We’ve been really heartened by the enthusiastic engagement of many stakeholders,” said Moore, such as Central Health, City Council, People’s Community Clinic and a “wide group” of community organizations and nonprofits. “We’ve been able to build a broad coalition across the city,” she added. “In addition to the Council’s support, we’ve had engagement from public, private and nonprofit organizations.”

Moore said the level of interest among stakeholders was so great that they formed a work group, composed of Austin Public Health, AISD, Texas Commission for Women and HACA, to launch the pilot.

“We’re in this tenuous situation where we want to ensure we are building menstrual equity in our work going forward. But also we are working under the pandemic restrictions. And it’s very difficult to know when the transition back to ‘normalcy’ will happen and how that will impact these initiatives,” said Moore.

Tovo thanked Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison for her office’s leadership on this issue.

“This is really an important area, and I’m very happy to see it moving forward with an intent to work with nonprofits on the ground, who are able to do this so effectively,” said Tovo. “I look forward to continuing to support the efforts in whatever way I can.”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council Health and Human Services Committee: An Austin City Council committee charged with looking at such issues as income disparity, the regional SNAP program, and healthcare.

Austin Independent School District

Housing Authority of the City of Austin: Austin’s Housing Authority works to provide affordable housing to low-income families. The public agency also is tasked with assisting residents to become economically self-sufficient.

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