There are currently about 3.9 Billon Women or Girls in the world. Surprisingly the world’s global population is almost equal regarding men and women, with men only slightly ahead. Women play a critical role in maintaining the global population and the world’s economies by producing the future workforce. Although women hold this vital position in society, women experience many gaps in their daily lives and globally.
Over 22 million women in the United States and millions abroad cannot afford or lack access to menstrual hygiene products making functioning during menstruation difficult. During this last year, headlines about a tampon shortage started appearing in early summer 2022, when The Wall Street Journal reported that 7% of tampons were out of stock nationwide. Across the U.S., shoppers looking for their preferred brand, or any brand at all, were greeted with empty store shelves. Along with shortages, prices of pads and tampons have risen along with the cost of everything else, making it expensive to have a period.
No other personal need is more fundamental than the ability to maintain hygiene. With the rising cost of living, food, and everyday items, women and households with multiple women have had to face additional expenses due to the increased cost of feminine hygiene products. At first glance, this may seem insignificant, but it becomes clear when we look at the economics. For example, according to Pandia Health, the average cost of a box of tampons is $7.00 to $9.00, and the average person may use one or two boxes each month for an average of 38 years; adding up to thousands of dollars for women and even more for households with multiple women.
Understanding the necessity for feminine hygiene products, being a woman myself, and realizing that this will be an ongoing problem that needs a solution, I reached out to Dana Marlowe at I Support The Girls to learn more about how her organization is combating the problem.
Dana Marlowe is the founder and Executive Director at I Support the Girls. This non-profit gives dignity back to women in the U.S. and Internationally through donations of bras and menstrual hygiene products. Ms. Marlowe has been on a mission to normalize women’s bodily functions in society by helping to remove the taboo of biologically being a woman. Her organization has helped donate over 20 million products to those in need.
My Interview with Dana Marlowe, I Support The Girls
I Support The Girls collects and distributes essential items, including bras, underwear, and menstrual hygiene products, allowing women and folx experiencing homelessness, impoverishment, or distress to stand tall with dignity. Around the globe, the organization is helping girls and women experiencing domestic violence, victims of sex trafficking, refugees, and evacuees affected by natural disasters. The organization accomplishes its mission through an international network of affiliates and personal donations.
What is Period Poverty?
“Period poverty is when a person cannot easily access menstrual hygiene products due to financial constraints. They can’t access maxi pads, tampons, period underwear, or the products they need as well as safe and hygienic means of keeping themselves clean and managing their menstrual cycle. Awareness around period poverty has become more mainstream in the last few years, but this issue is ongoing. From a numbers standpoint, around 26% of people are currently menstruating, with about 6% of the world’s population lacking the ability to manage their menstrual cycles safely. More than 500 million women and girls live in poverty worldwide, or about one in nine women.
In addition, the inability to afford great undergarments doesn’t have a name, but it can affect one’s health. An Ill-fitting bra that’s the wrong size may not provide you with the support you need. It can result in back pain and chest pain. It could poke your skin. Then obviously, a lack of clean and adequately fitting underwear can lead to urinary tract infections and other issues from a sanitation perspective.
I Support The Girls partners with local, national, and global non-profits and social service organizations providing menstrual products, new bras, and underwear to their clients or constituents.”
Currently, You Are Helping Women During The War In Russia And Ukraine. Can You Speak To That A Little?
“When the conflict broke out between Russia and Ukraine in early 2022, they immediately called us to respond through our disaster relief program. We do have several programs that we operate. One of those programs focuses on disaster relief and response. It might be a hurricane, a wildfire, a tornado, or a tsunami; there are a lot of different forms that disasters take, and certainly, war is one of them. We were called into action because when people fled Ukraine and moved to Slovakia, Poland, and surrounding countries, women and girls are frequently forgotten about during disasters, specifically their needs around bras, underwear, and menstrual hygiene products.
We partnered through four organizations, B Strong Foundation, Meest in the USA, St. Andrews Church in the greater Washington DC area, and HSE Austin. We were able to coordinate donations and send 200,000 products based on what those needs were. And we continue to respond as those needs continue because we realize that the fact is that war doesn’t stop for periods.”
How Has Your Organizations Brought Diverse Groups Of Women Together?
“We are so grateful to have this incredible, amazing work done by our I Support The Girls affiliate directors. We rely on the skills of our phenomenal volunteers in so many unique capacities. They have different backgrounds and day jobs, ranging from stay-at-home moms, teachers, attorneys, doctors, government employees, retired folks, grandparents, and others who recently graduated high school or might be in college. There are so many ways that people from different backgrounds come together with I Support The Girls. A lot of them also host events. Whether it’s a 5K or a women’s rights march, an industry conference, or hosting a Brabecue instead of a barbeque or Mardi Bra party, our selfless affiliate directors may be local, collecting locally and donating locally. Still, they also have global connections to homeless shelters, refugee organizations, food banks, and schools. They’re bringing their diverse communities together.”
Can You Explain Why What You Do Is Essential for People Who Are Not Women?
“We want to make sure that even folks without periods, primarily large percentages of men, since we recognize that not all women have periods and not all people who have periods are women. We want folks to realize that periods are necessary for life. All human beings on this planet are here because someone had a period. For anyone without a period who responds with gross, this doesn’t impact me; this doesn’t affect me; why should I care? Well, they wouldn’t be here if the person who gave birth to them didn’t have a period. That’s just the basic biology behind things. When we break it down like that, people tend to understand the basic level of menstrual care because it’s not a luxury experience it’s a natural biological function.
We’re not asking for the moon when people want free and accessible menstrual products. We want equal treatment. We hope that non-menstruating people understand that having a period is expensive. The average box of tampons might be anywhere from seven to nine dollars in the United States, depending on where one lives. It can be more expensive in the couple dozen states that still have a tax on tampons putting an even higher financial barrier on anyone who needs those menstrual products and might be homeless or impoverished.”
How Has Your Organization Been Affected Due To Covid?
“In June of 2022, we started putting together a lot of data; on how many products we donate to organizations. There’s a lot that goes into our data tracking as a non-profit. We started realizing that we were having significantly fewer donations of tampons from the individual level to the collection level. We couldn’t supply tampons to people requesting them in the quantities we usually provide. We donate large amounts to homeless shelters, food pantries, domestic violence shelters, low-income public schools and reservations, and all these places.
Our tampon numbers were low compared to last year or two years ago; however, we wanted to slice and dice the tracking information. We found that something was going on, and we spoke to a reporter at Time Magazine about this because she noticed something also. She shared the story. We wanted to make sure that we were shedding light on this critical shortage because we had heard about the very important baby formula shortage, a popcorn shortage, and a spicy siracha shortage. All these shortages are impacting different industries; the tampon shortage is real.
Many tampon manufacturers have mentioned that it’s a result of these existing supply chain issues. For many months, in early covid, people were experiencing no toilet paper. The fact that there’s this national tampon shortage was a lot quieter. I Support The Girls has been grateful to receive an influx of maxi pads and period underwear donations. We’ve still been able to supply tens of thousands of products to folks in need as we wait for tampons to come back to store shelves.”
What’s Your Best Story?
“The one that’s most memorable for me is when I got to meet Crystal. I’ve been blessed to meet many incredible people through I Support The Girls in various ways. One day I was delivering about a thousand bras, a couple of thousand menstrual hygiene products, and toiletries to a homeless shelter organization in the Washington DC area. I got to privately meet with this woman named Crystal, who lives in the D.C. area like me. We got to talking, and she needed some new bras. I asked her what she was looking for, and we opened a lot of the packages, and she told me her size, and she said she wanted a sports bra.
I said, “Sure, no problem. Can I ask why?” she said, “Well, a sports bra doesn’t cut into me, and it provides the support I need if I’m sleeping on the streets or benches in the train station if I’m at a shelter. It also doubles as a pocketbook.” I asked her how. She said, “Well, the extra fabric or cloth on the top of a sports bra in the chest area lets her put her family photo, her identification, and any money in a bag nobody knows. So it keeps it safe.” So I got Crystal several sports bras that day, and she asked if she could have another kind of bra. I said, “Absolutely.”
She said, “I really would love a red Lacey bra.”
I said, “Sure thing. No problem. Any reason why?” And she said, “Well, I always see on the train station ads or in the corner shops where they have all the displays of magazines, there’s always these like women in red Lacey bras, and they look so happy. I think it would be fun to feel sexy and happy too. Nobody has to know it’s there because it’s underneath all of my layers of shirts and sweatshirts and hoodies and scarves and jackets. But I’ll know it’s close to my heart, so it’ll make me feel good.” So obviously, we hooked her up with a couple of red lacey bras that day.”
How Does What You Do Show How Women Are Seen And Valued In Society?
“I think it’s a multi-prong reason, and it’s not an easy question with an easy answer. There are a lot of issues to unpack in that question. Women could be seen being under attack because there continues to be unequal pay for women in the same position as men in the United States. To see more holistic progress in society, women need to receive equal pay; from a legality advocacy legislation standpoint, it comes down to knowing that voting is essential. You need to vote at your local level, whether it’s your school board, community, city, or state; it is just as important, if not more important, than national voting.
Part of the issue is the people who are making these laws are not people that identify as women. That’s a huge issue. It leaves out anybody who doesn’t look like them. If you were to look at our members of Congress in a large photo, you’d notice that it is significantly a large percentage of middle-aged Caucasian men. We’re leaving out many people of color, a lot of people with disabilities, and a lot of women who are all missing from that picture to help make decisions about themselves. Suppose Congress is making decisions about women’s bodies, and they are not women and haven’t had these experiences, and women are not being listened to. In that case, the problem is amplified on many levels and platforms.
I think that part of the reason it’s not happening goes back to the concept that if you can see it, you can be it. What I mean by that is if you are a young girl in the United States and want to become a high-ranking leader or a member of Congress, it’s beneficial if you have other women in your community who are those members of Congress. If you can see them in that role, you can become them as you age. I think it’s important to answer your question on women’s value and how they’re seen and valued in society.
Whether I Support The Girls is on the steps of Capitol Hill advocating for women’s and menstrual rights, or we’re having conversations on social media through TikTok and talking to different generations and audiences, these issues are important because we hear it from so many people. Our advocacy targets various topics; Period poverty, menstrual equity, and removing this luxury tax from all the states within the United States. Our focus on these topics brings to light all the intersections impacting women and girls experiencing homelessness, impoverishment, or distress.
We drive around, for example, to combat that and raise awareness in a giant transit van wrapped in pink and turquoise, and it’s called our vangina. And we have a giant tampon on one side that says, “Yes, this van is full of tampons.”
On the other side, it has a huge bra that says, “I break for bras,” and we have a call to action about period poverty so that if we’re tagged on social media, we donate a month’s worth of products. There are many ways we try to raise awareness of women’s issues, specifically menstruation, period poverty, and undergarments, to inform people about our work and to normalize the topic. Last year we took a road trip in the vangina and hit 22 cities. That was important because we raised awareness on many issues impacting women, girls, and menstruation.”
About Dana Marlowe
Dana Marlowe is the founder and Executive Director at I Support the Girls. This non-profit gives dignity back to women in the U.S. and Internationally through donations of bras and menstrual hygiene products. Ms. Marlowe has been on a mission to normalize women’s bodily functions in society by helping to remove the taboo of biologically being a woman. Her organization has helped donate over 7 million products to those in need. Dana Marlowe has become an advocate for women’s rights and stands for women through her organization, I Support The Girls, by providing women access to donated bras and menstrual hygiene products. Her story and the start of her organization began when she had to go bra shopping since her size had changed after losing some weight. Once she realized that she would now have a lot of bras at home that would no longer be used, she asked the store clerk if she knew of anything she could do. The clerk told her well; homeless women need bras. That was the start of the lightbulb in her mind that led to helping women across the globe. To learn more, go to: isupportthegirls.org
About the Author
Annmarie Hylton-Schaub, Head Marketing Strategist and Content Developer at Project Good Work, a boutique marketing group focused on helping individuals who want to launch social impact projects, charities, and change-making initiatives. The marketing group works to develop branding, marketing strategy, and content to connect clients with the people who believe what they believe so that their project and business can thrive.
If you have a passion for an unserved community, a social justice problem, or want to change minds, contact Project Good Work at ProjectGood.Work to start your project of change today.