When Eva Marie Carney read a news story a few years ago about menstrual poverty among Native Americans in North America, she realized a problem she hadn’t thought of. She knew she had to use the resources she had to help young menstruators who were Aboriginal or living in predominantly Aboriginal communities.
Carney is a citizen of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation headquartered in Shawnee, Oklahoma, as well as a member of the Tribal Legislature.
She read stories from the Pine Ridge Reservation and elsewhere, which opened her eyes to “period poverty”—a lack of access to period supplies—in North America. There has been a lot of writing about menstrual poverty overseas in places as diverse as South Asia, Africa and Latin America, but Carney realized she could make a difference at home. .
“When I looked around and tried to figure out who else was helping, I couldn’t find any other organizations dedicated to helping Indigenous people,” she said. “I started helping students on rural reservations and then we expanded into urban and suburban communities.”
Even before the pandemic exacerbated inequality, one in five teenage girls in the United States struggled to afford menstrual products or were unable to afford them at all, according to a to study commissioned by a non-profit organization and a vintage underwear company.
From the start, Carney said she wanted to make sure she supported menstruators through dignity and better access. In 2018, The Kwek Society, a non-profit organization, was established. Kwe’k means “women” in the Potawatomi language, so it means women’s society.
In indigenous cultures, the time during the period is often referred to as “moon time”, depending on the rules of the organization. website. Early on, Carney received help from some of his fellow tribals who designed moon hour bags that the organization now distributes throughout Indian County. They are colorful cotton bags sewn by supporters and stuffed with pads and liners. Each bag comes with a celebratory message from the Kwek Society.
The Kwek Society is based in Arlington, Virginia, and ships most of the period supplies from there to the eight U.S. states the organization supports, Carney said.
“While I continue to do a lot of personalized and individualized buying locally for the schools and groups we support, I now have some great suppliers we can order direct from – we now have an organic towel supplier, for example , and these pads have been very well received. Students find them thin and nice yet absorbent,” she said.[The pads] are shipped directly from our source in Washington State, which is great because it eliminates the middle person (me) who would need to purchase and ship supplies whenever they are needed.
The Kwek Society currently supports more than 70 partners – schools and communities – across North America. In 2020, the organization, with support from partners including foundations and individuals, provided 303,800 vintage supplies, 3,429 moon hour bags and puberty education books. This year, with schools more or less back in session in the fall of 2021, the organization has increased those numbers, providing 407,467 vintage supplies, 5,034 moon weather bags and education books. at puberty.
In addition to supplies, the organization also offers educational resources, including information sharing on an app called okay, which was developed by UNICEF as the world’s first period tracking and reproductive health education app, designed with the help of young people.
Carney is especially excited about OKY because it’s a free, reliable source of period tracking and reproductive health education that can be downloaded to mobile phones and works offline. The Kwek company website also includes connections to traditional teachings and culturally relevant teachings about periods and menstruation.
Carney said she believes menstrual poverty is the same in urban and rural settings, but rural areas may face greater economic barriers. There are generally fewer large retail stores in rural areas, she noted, so it’s harder to stock up on universally expensive vintage goods at a discount. Additionally, wages can be lower in rural areas, so buying period goods can very quickly deplete a family’s disposable income.
“With Covid, in the early waves of the pandemic in 2020, the disparities were even more extreme in areas like the Navajo Nation, as many very rural stores were not delivering,” she said. “Some of the communities have been totally locked down. If period supplies and other necessities were not brought in safely, people would not have supplies.
Another factor is that in rural areas there are simply not as many people to support the creation of organizations and other groups to help solve the problems that arise, she said.
“It’s a problem of poverty. And there is poverty all over our country,” she added.
At Tohaali Community School, a Bureau of Indian Education school in Newcomb, New Mexico, principal Delores P. Bitsilly said she was grateful for the partnership with the Kwek Society. Living in such an isolated area, many don’t have transport or money to buy gasoline to get vintage goods, she said.
“Students feel confident requesting items because they know we have them readily available through the Kwek Society,” Bitsilly wrote in an email.
Carney noted that people can donate to help the cause, lead a campaign or connect the organization with potential partners.