“Made to feel like a burden”: Accessing menstrual products within Georgia correctional facilities

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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

Menstrual Product Survey from Whitworth WomenMenstrual Product Survey from Whitworth Women2

School Nurses: Explore Period Product Distribution at District Nutrition Program Sites!

Last night, this message was sent to all School Nurses in Georgia, from Krista Lowe, the School Nurse Consultant for the Department of Education, .

If you are a school nurse, hope you have already seen it and taken action!

If you are an advocate but not a school nurse, connect with your local school system to encourage them to do everything they can, to get state funded period supplies to their local nutrition director for distribution!

Periods don’t stop for pandemics,” as pointed out in this New York Times piece over the weekend. Students need these products during distance learning as much as they needed them when in the school building!

Thank you for reminding us of that, Krista!

Good evening,
I hope you all are staying home and healthy. I have heard so many wonderful stories of all of the things our school nurses are doing across the state while their students are at home. I know many nurses are working to help distribute school meals to students in need. I wanted to suggest that if your district has spent their feminine hygiene grant money to purchase the products, districts should think of various ways to get these products to their girls in need. Dr. Linette Dodson, State Director for the School Nutrition Program, has reached out to the local nutrition directors to encourage distribution of these items when distributing lunches to students. Please consider ways to help our girls who could benefit from this program, and feel free to share any innovative ways your district is distributing these products.
Sincerely,
Krista

Krista Lowe, M.Ed., BSN, RN
School Nurse Consultant
Georgia Department of Education

160+ School Nurses Attend Georgia STOMP Webinar!

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Feminine Hygiene Product Distribution Webinar Presentation Team (Matt Cardoza, Lynne Meadows, Dr. Andrea Swartzendruber, Tabitha Coverson and Adele Stewart)

On Monday, February 24th, Georgia STOMP, in cooperation with partner, Georgia Association of School Nurses (GASN), held a webinar for school nurses to learn more about the funding available for the purchase of period products in Georgia’s schools. The webinar was hosted by the Department of Education (DOE), with Matt Cardoza, Assistant Director of Policy and External Affairs, providing crucial assistance both operationally and as a participant, answering questions from attendees.

Lynne Meadows, GASN State Director, has worked closely with Georgia STOMP to assist school nurses efficiently distribute funds allocated by the state  for the purpose of providing feminine hygiene products in schools. This webinar was a natural next step in the GASN/Georgia STOMP partnership.

Over 160 nurses/counselors/social workers joined online to learn how the money was distributed and hear three case studies regarding best practices underway in Georgia. Distribution programs in Muscogee County (Florene Dawkins), Troup County (Tabitha Coverson) and Marietta City Schools (Dr. Rona Roberts) were highlighted. Additionally, Dr. Andrea Swartzendruber  from UGa’s College of Public Health, discussed the need for these products and the negative effects on learning, self-image and development, that a lack of period products can cause.

A Q&A session at the conclusion of the presentations was fully utilized by nurses, with questions submitted from all over the state. With GASN, DOE, Georgia STOMP, experienced nurses and those leading the state with successful wrap-around services, all in the room, it was an informative session of learning what the money can, and cannot, be used for and how to spend it.

If you missed the webinar, it is well worth a listen. You will find it here.

Thank you to all our presenters and to GASN and DOE for such a fruitful partnership!

Georgia STOMP Meets with Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones

JonesJanOn Wednesday, January 22nd, Dominique Holloman (Chair, JL of Ga SPAC), and Adele Stewart (Co-Lead, Georgia STOMP), met with Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones to discuss her support of menstrual hygiene product availability in schools and inquire how Georgia STOMP could assure the continued allocation of funds for that purpose.

The Speaker Pro Tem was strong in her support of this initiative, and plans to add language this year focusing the allocation on districts and schools that have both high poverty rates and surrounding areas of low wealth. That, she says, will ensure schools which cannot fund these products on their own, will receive the money and get the products to students most in need.

Moreover, the Speaker Pro Tem noted that Georgia STOMP would do well to identify additional gaps in menstrual product access where the Legislature’s attention may be impactful. If you have seen gaps in your community, please email us with your experiences so that we might gather feedback and offer anecdotal evidence about addressable instances of period poverty in Georgia.

Stay tuned for more updates on HB8 as the legislature returns this week!

 

 

School Nurse Webinar Co-hosted by Georgia STOMP!

On February 24th at noon, Georgia STOMP is honored to work alongside the Georgia Association of School Nurses to host a live webinar for school nurses and other school employees who distribute period products to students in Georgia. The webinar will originate on a platform provided by the Georgia Department of Education and include an opportunity for real time Q&A by participants.

The webinar will begin with an update on the distribution of funds earmarked in the 2019 legislative session for the purchase of feminine hygiene products in Georgia’s public schools, and through local health departments. Several case studies featuring local school leaders will highlight how various districts are distributing the funds and addressing the needs of students while minimizing stigmatization. Dr Andrea Swartzendruber, a Georgia STOMP coalition research partner from UGa, will speak on the developmental and psychological importance of accurate information related to menstruation, in addition to access to products. The webinar will conclude with Q&A from participating school staff and presenters.

As a Georgia STOMP follower, make sure your local school staff is aware of this opportunity!


 

School Nurse Webinar Flyer