A global team of menstrual equity advocates reflect on a year filled with achievements and look to the future of The Pad Project’s Ambassador Program
The Pad Project is a nonprofit organization founded by high school students and their English teacher at Oakwood School in 2013, dedicated to erasing the stigma associated with menstruation and empowering menstruators globally. Last fall, the nonprofit launched something new: the Ambassador Program. One hundred ambassadors across 29 countries with their own backgrounds, stories, reasons for joining, came together to collaborate on projects directed toward menstrual equity. In the past year, ambassadors have tackled stigma and worked to lessen inaccessibility to menstrual hygiene products in a number of ways.
On the west coast of the U.S., in Monroe, Washington, University of Washington freshman Andrea Malagón joined the Ambassador Program with The Pad Project driven by her personal political philosophy – something she acknowledges is subject to change in the future, but is a large part of her nonetheless.
“Menstrual health is so untalked about but at the same time, [periods] are such a common thing that can happen anywhere, anytime. So I’m like, what services, what type of care, do people need?” Malagón said. “I want to see a world where people are being taken care of.”
In March 2019, the state of Washington was deliberating over House Bill 1273. If passed, the bill would require all public schools K-12 and universities in the state to have menstrual products available for free.
Intrigued, Malagón prepared a short speech focussed on the additional struggle menstruators experiencing homelessness face when they lack access to a basic necessity: menstrual hygiene products. Malagón testified before Washington state’s legislative panel that month.
“It was my first time testifying, and that too, on Zoom. But it was really, really cool,” Malagón said. “If something similar to this were to happen or go up for debate, I would totally do it again.”
A few weeks after her first testification, Malagón was called to testify again. On April 14 this year, the state of Washington passed HB 1273. Starting July 25, students in grades K-12 as well as students attending public universities in the state of Washington will have access to menstrual products at school for free.
Though Malagón will not be an ambassador with The Pad Project this fall, she will continue her activism with a local organization named The Red SEA. As she reflects on her experience in the past year, she has an important message for new activists.
“I would recommend just really reading [organizations’] mission statements about what they do. Read what other people have to say about it in comment sections. Then you know what you’re getting yourself into,” Malagón said. “Then, do you actually want to? I feel like that’s how commitment is: if you want something, you’re gonna do what it takes.”
Halfway across the globe in Birmingham, England, Hannah Mitchell was introduced to The Pad Project, as many others have been, through the documentary streaming on Netflix: Period. End of Sentence.
Driven by a sudden, intense passion and a need to spread awareness, Mitchell joined The Pad Project as an ambassador and started an in-group book club.
“I’ve got more input on what books people want to read. It was never like I would be the driving force; I wanted it to be like a group thing,” Mitchell said.
Last year, members read “Periods Gone Public” by Jennifer Weiss-Wolf. Touched by the book, Mitchell reached out to Weiss-Wolf and introduced herself and the book club she started. The two quickly established a connection and Weiss-Wolf agreed to join a book club meeting to talk about her novel with members.
“There were probably like five or six of us, and it was really nice because it just felt like a friendly chat,” Mitchell said. “She was as excited about being involved with us as we were. It was absolutely amazing.”
Joining the Ambassador Program as an advisor this year, Mitchell is excited to resume the book club. She plans to start the year off with “Period. End of Sentence.” by Anita Diamant, The Pad Project’s first book. By connecting and experiencing books together, Mitchell hopes to spread awareness about the many aspects of menstruation to her fellow members.
To Mitchell, this is an issue that affects everyone but is not talked about nearly enough. Her goal is to fix this.
“It’s not just about period equity. It’s also about knowing about all the hormones there are; that it’s not just five days a month. And that it affects everything: your work, relationships, everything.” Mitchell said. “I think everyone needs to be involved in the fight for [menstrual equity] because it affects everyone.”
Scotland based Miura Lima is also working to spread awareness and fight against stigma and taboos associated with periods. She started her own nonprofit named Mina Muala Nón (‘Our Menstruation’), dedicated to supporting and educating menstruators in the Sub-Saharan African communities she comes from.
“When [The Pad Project] announced the Ambassador Program, I was like, ‘This is an amazing opportunity for me!’” Lima said. “To be part of this movement and give back to my own country as well has been an amazing journey.”
In addition to educating the local communities about menstrual health, Lima also sends pads to them. Recently, she has partnered with a local organization, Hey Girls Scotland, to raise money for menstrual hygiene products for women in Sao Tome and Principe communities.
Though she has been operating remotely from Scotland, with a small team of seven, Lima’s organization has reached over 300 women this past year. She looks forward to expanding Mina Muala Nón’s impact radius this year.
Also joining the Ambassador Program this year as an advisor, Lima is excited to meet and guide new ambassadors. She looks forward to working together toward bringing about what, in her eyes, is a perfect world for menstruators.
“I want a society where there is no stigma. I want people to have access to all the information that they need, hold the products that they need, and have access to appropriate healthcare professionals,” Lima said. “I am really looking forward to getting to know all these people from different parts of the world. We are going to build something greater than before because we all come from different experiences and bring our own insights.”
Seventeen year old Alma Chavez from Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico is also giving back to her community. In collaboration with girls from her school in partnership with students from Oakwood School in L.A., Chavez organized a raffle. By selling tickets for prizes from local small businesses, together the team raised $2,200. The money was donated to Border Angels, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and assisting migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border, to provide menstrual hygiene products for migrants.
“We raised so much money and that was really big, not only for me, but for the rest of my team because we all worked really hard for it,” Chavez said. “I think that was one of the most rewarding things that I’ve done.”
The inaugural year of the Ambassador Program showcased one simple truth: any individual can have profound impact within local and global communities. This year, The Pad Project team is honing in on specific social and environmental justice initiatives to create a concerted impact on issues that pertain most closely to their work and the passions of their ambassadors.
“The Pad Project Team is thrilled to support the ongoing projects of our returning and incoming ambassadors, as well as bear witness to leadership in action from our all-star team of advisors,” Nicolette Harutunian, head of the Ambassador Program, said. “We can barely contain our excitement to welcome new ambassadors and unite to push The Pad Project’s mission forward.”