Dignity. Period.

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TOWAMENCIN- Mother Nature had nothing against Eva Steele and the Various Voices Club as they presented Dignity. Period., a showcase to end period poverty, on Wednesday, May 29. The event supported the efforts of the non-profit organization, Mitzvah Circle Foundation. In spite of the heavy storms followed by a tornado warning, the showcase still went on.

Period poverty is an issue affecting 1 in 4 American women preventing those affected from going to school, attending work, and most importantly feeling empowered as a woman. The event showcased the stigmatization of periods which is the cause of why millions of women in our country live with a problem affecting their physical and mental well-being and causing them to be incapable of living a life without having to worry about their next period. Donations were collected to be distributed to women in need of menstrual supplies, clothing, and shoes through local nonprofit Mitzvah Circle Foundation.

Hannah Nguyen
Eva Steele, host of the night, presenting her poem, “Lost in Translation”

Because period poverty does not affect every person and has been hidden for so long, the showcase was meant to increase the solidarity necessary to change mentality surrounding the stigmas of both periods and poverty so that we may give a voice to those who feel like they have none,” explain Steele, the host of Dignity. Period.

North Penn High School senior Eva Steele has been volunteering at Mitzvah Circle Foundation for nearly 3 years. The organization is one of only 51 non-profit organizations in the nation chosen to address period poverty. The idea of creating Dignity. Period. was thought of during a discussion with Steele and her mentors in order to help find a way for girls in local schools to be made aware of the period supplies available to them.

“As with any issue, period poverty and stigmatization is a beast with many heads, both in its effects and its ability to morph itself into any society, crossing social and economic classes across even the most modern of countries. Not only does it cause feelings of intense shame and anxiety, it causes girls and women everywhere to miss academic, social, and economic opportunities at a concerning rate,” Steele explained.

We often forget that poverty exists not just in underdeveloped countries but in our own nation as well. Last year, 1 in 5 girls reported staying home or missing part of the school day due to their period.

“These are girls that cross our paths every single day, unnoticed and stuck in literal cycles of suffering, that I myself never thought to consider until this year, when, having volunteered at Mitzvah Circle for 3 years, my mentor Rachel Hurley proposed for me to work on the period poverty initiative. What hit me the hardest was being given surveys completed by women in the area that were receiving period supplies and learning not only that women miss out on everyday activities such as school and work, but that there are concerning amounts of shame, anxiety, and even depression linked to lack of access to supplies and the stigma attached to both menstruation and poverty in general. What surprised me even more was that this issue was barely being talked about,” said Steele.

Steele had the responsibility to phone school nurses in local school districts in order to take further request for the pads Mitzvah Circle had delivered to them in the year before.

“As I began to talk to the nurses, what started as an inventory turned into something truly moving: many of the nurses I called would express sheer gratitude towards Mitzvah Circle’s initiative in helping out their girls, now that they were able to give out more than just one pad to those who needed them. Period poverty, after all, is not limited to school hours. Finally, someone was doing something to regulate a problem that their students had silently suffered with for years. I can distinctly remember what it felt like to call my own elementary school, A.M. Kulp Elementary school and hear about girls that had been meekly searching out supplies. It wasn’t as desperate of a cause as those schools that had  called with higher percentages of lower income families, but it had, at that moment, permeated my life. My own microcosm,” commented Steele.

Steele began working on the period poverty initiative in September. As for the showcase, Steele began planning it in January and was set up to work with Various Voices Club who interested in helping her bring the idea to life.

“It was definitely a lot of hard work with road bumps along the way as I learned how to most pragmatically handle the minutiae that was so important to me, but my mentor Rachel, along with Mrs. Kelley, served as consultants along the way to help me simplify. I tend to attach meaning to the smallest of details; they aided me in making things less complicated so I could focus on the key elements of the showcase such as dignity, love, and solidarity. It required communication with administration, as well as a system of communicating to them through Mrs. Kelley that we perfected at the beginning of the year,” mentioned Steele.

Hannah Nguyen
Jay Patel presenting his poem, “Strength”, as a message to all women

The event included dramatic readings of testimonials from girls in grades as low as 5th grade to older women. They emphasized the circumstances that women face every month because of their period and the stress that comes with it. Poems were also presented by students who submitted them.

“What inspired me to submit the piece that I did is because I know a lot of my female friends struggle with self love and I wanted to write a poem to let not only my friends but others know that they are not alone in their journey to self love,” explained North Penn High School senior Nikki Butler who performed her poem, “Beauty Within.”

“I believe that input from a guy can be very helpful to broaden people’s views. We usually only hear about this stuff from women so I hoped to provide a fresh perspective,” said North Penn High School senior Jude Adham who presented his poem, “Who’s Here to Woo.”

“Being that mostly females are advocates on such topics, I found it important to share a male viewpoint/perspective on such issues. My poem titled “Strength“ was formed as a letter addressed to all the women in the world. It was a sort of reassurance to women that, yes, some men do understand or acknowledge the things that women go through. I really wanted to go against the status quo to perhaps inspire other males to advocate or educate themselves and other people on the issue of period poverty,” added North Penn High School senior Jay Patel.

Reflecting on the night, Steele was proud to say that the event was a success because it truly was. It was educational and empowering for all who came out to support the hard work and dedication made by Eva Steele, Various Voices Club, and the Mitzvah Circle Foundation.

“I have no words to describe how proud I am of our team for putting on a show despite the extenuating circumstances that not only touched those who were able to come, but fully embodied the spirit of the event as something that was meant to serve as a voice for the voiceless through art. For me, this symbolically provided a sort of finality to the time I have left at this school; being able to bring to life something in which I believe so strongly, surrounded by the most determined and inspiring people, that’s what made this so powerful. Being able to dedicate a part of my life to those who are so often brushed aside changed my life completely. I truly hope that everyone can find an opportunity to make their voices heard at this school,” expressed Steele.

“What I took away from it is that unity is power. And when people unite no matter how small the group we can still make a difference,” commented Butler.

“I didn’t fully recognize the magnitude of period poverty and that it was even a problem in the first place. I became aware of the silent social stigma of periods and the consequences of it,” Adham mentioned.

“This event has made me realize how overlooked this issue is in our nation, even though period poverty affects so many women across the country. The most important thing I took away from this event is the sense of newfound importance regarding the advocacy of this issue. It is so important that people know the realities women face day to day in this country and with education I’m sure that more and more people will also find this issue important,” added Patel.

As for the future, Steele plans to continue bringing light to this ignored topic. She will be attending Pittsburgh University to study neuroscience and philosophy in international and area studies. Her impact will always be remembered by North Penn and her efforts in bringing awareness to period poverty will take her far in life.

“I would love for the legacy to live on and raise awareness to the maximal amount of people so that they too can find the hope and strength they need, or simply discover a cause they can support,” said Steele.

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