Guest Blog by Dr. Ronke Olowojesiku, recent graduate of Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership and the Medical College of Georgia. Prior to her move to Washington, DC to begin her Residency, Dr. Olowojesiku was an active supporter of Georgia STOMP through partner organization, Period UGA.
Something as simple as reaching into a drawer for a tampon or pad can easily be taken for granted. Imagine if before reaching into said drawer, you had to ask permission to do so, and that, once permission was granted, it no longer mattered because the drawer was empty and would not be refilled until later. In the meantime, you had to make do with pieces of toilet paper or nothing at all, hoping that you would not soil yourself, sitting in feelings of anxiousness and humiliation. This narrative reflects the stories that were shared by women currently imprisoned in the state of Georgia. In February 2020, a survey was conducted at Whitworth Women’s Facility, a state penitentiary in Hart County, Georgia, asking women about their experiences with menstrual product access at their local and county prisons prior to transfer to Whitworth, and their experiences at the state prison. The findings from the survey speak to an under addressed issue within our state with regards menstrual product access for those who are incarcerated.
The 11 women who responded to the survey were held at 10 different local and county facilities prior to transfer to Whitworth. While most of the respondents said that menstrual care products were available free of charge at their local or county facility, almost all of them said they did not have direct access to the products. They typically had to go through a prison official to gain access, and many times these officials were male. In describing their experiences in accessing products, the women shared feelings of embarrassment, apprehension, and/or feeling dismissed or not being taken seriously. Says one respondent regarding requests for products,
“We often were made to feel like a burden for asking for more. It was very humiliating having to ask the men and nothing we could do if they chose not to or forgot.”
Yet another woman reported having to wait to get products, saying,
“If your menstrual started while we were in our cells we were told to use tissue until ‘free time.’”
In contrast to these reports, at Whitworth, products are kept in a central cabinet which the women have unrestricted access to. While some reported concerns of others taking more products than needed, overall, less women reported issues getting products or feeling uncomfortable about accessing products when compared to their prior experiences at local and county facilities. This finding is promising and presents an alternative for managing menstrual health and hygiene in prisons.
Adequate menstrual hygiene helps to prevent reproductive and urinary tract infections, as well maintain individual dignity. Menstruation is a normal, physiological process that should be respected and well cared for, regardless if one is imprisoned or not. The reports from these women show that providing the products is not good enough; thought and care into how these products are distributed is needed. If there are obstacles, such as having to pay for products, having to go through a prison official, or having to ask a male official, then those who need the products are less likely to get them and are more likely to experience poor outcomes as a result. No one should be made to feel like a burden for a process that their body naturally undergoes, and steps should be taken to ensure that this is not so.
Dr. Olowojesiku’s Data Summary in pdf format: Menstrual Product Survey from Whitworth Women