Ending period poverty

three women sitting around a table with sewing machines and colored fabrics
Sunset Hills Presbyterian is one of several churches in the area that participate in the Days for Girls program. Clockwise from front: Christian Education Director Taylor Strang, Leslie Ney and Marla Bruschi.

Period poverty is the public health crisis no one talks about.

A young girl misses school because she doesn’t have proper menstrual supplies. A woman skips work for the same reason. A young girl is never taught about menstruation. A young girl feels ashamed of her body because of menstrual taboos.

It may seem unimaginable, but it’s happening across the globe.

The lack of access to menstrual products, education and facilities, known as period poverty, impacts more than 500 million women worldwide. According to a 2014 United Nations report, period poverty causes one in 10 young girls to miss school during her menstrual cycle.

Sunset Hills United Presbyterian Church, 900 Country Club Drive, is working to change that.

The congregation, under the direction of the Rev. Dr. Laura E. Strauss, started a Days for Girls chapter that meets every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Volunteers hand-make drawstring tote bags to hold reusable menstrual hygiene products for girls and women around the world.

Days for Girls is a national organization dedicated to eliminating the stigma of menstruation and ending period poverty. The organization believes girls shouldn’t have to miss school because of their periods. Reusable menstrual hygiene kits are a way to get those days back. “It gives them dignity, it takes away shame, it helps to take away the stigma, it gives them control over their bodies,” Strauss said.

Sunset Hills is one of several Pittsburgh-area churches taking part in the Days for Girls program. Countries benefiting include Cuba, Ukraine, Bolivia and Ecuador.

All the material used in the tote bags is donated. Sunset Hills volunteers assemble around 18 bags each week. Mary Abbott, Bower Hill Road, is one of those volunteers. “It’s such wonderful mission work for us to do,” she said. “I think it’s life-changing for the girls because there’s such a stigma around menstruation in many cultures.”

According to Strauss, lack of access to menstrual products is not limited to other countries. “Many women in this country who are imprisoned do not have access to menstrual products and the cost is beyond what they can afford.”

If you’re interested in volunteering for Sunset Hills’ Days for Girls program, there’s no need to register; just show up ready to help! No sewing experience necessary and you don’t have to be a member of the Sunset Hills congregation to participate. Bring a brown bag lunch. Snacks and coffee are provided.

pink and purple reusable pad on a blue drawstring bag
Volunteers make these drawstring tote bags for reusable menstrual hygiene products.


Photography by Elizabeth Hruby McCabe