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How 2 JoCo Teens Are Fighting “Period Poverty” in Local Schools

What began as an effort to provide free menstrual products in local high schools has grown into an advocacy of state policy for high schoolers Becca Houlehan and Izzy Zschoche. Above, Houlehan (left) and Zschoche (right). Photo by Lucia Chrisman.

In 2022, two Johnson County teenagers wanted to do something about the lack of free menstrual products in local schools.

Becca Houlehan and Izzy Zschoche, now sophomores at Notre Dame de Zion High School in Kansas City, Mo., started Equity.Period., which aims to distribute menstrual products to schools in Johnson County and the greater California region. Kansas City.

One year and 17,000 feminine hygiene product donations later, the next stop is the Kansas Statehouse.

“Equity.Period.” supplies menstrual products to high schools

  • This started at Notre Dame de Sion when Houlehan, who is from Leawood, and Zschoche, who is from Prairie Village, were freshmen last year and has since expanded to six other nearby schools.
  • They raised donations and funds for the project through bake sales, Giving Tuesday events the week after Thanksgiving, and social media outreach activities.
  • Products such as pads, tampons and sanitary towels are distributed in make-up bags for students to take with them.
  • “I know I would never be able to do it myself,” Zschoche said. “So for other people who donate and just know that we’re making a widespread movement, and that it’s something bigger, it makes me feel like we’re having the impact I was hoping for.”
  • For reasons related to student privacy, they would not disclose which schools they have worked with, but did say that all six schools they have donated to so far are in Missouri.

Houlehan and Zschoche want to normalize the problem

  • According to a 2021 survey commissioned by the nonprofit Period.org, one in four teens missed school or work due to lack of access to period products.
  • Despite the commonality of those challenges, Houlehan said many people don’t realize there’s a lack of access to these products because of a stigma associated with talking about period.
  • He said normalizing that conversation is another major goal of Equity.Period. Project, as well as delivering vintage products.
  • “There’s definitely a big stigma around periods,” she said. “It’s a very sensitive topic that many people are uncomfortable with.”

“Period poverty” creates physical and financial challenges

  • Lindsey Weiss, with a local affiliate of the nonprofit I Support the Girls, said there are a number of impacts a lack of access to menstrual products can have.
  • She said when people can’t access safe menstrual products, they are more likely to experience health problems from using unsafe alternatives or financial problems from not being able to work.
  • “Menstrual fairness affects everything—it affects health, education, and the workforce,” she said. “I think we need to move from being a women’s problem to (recognizing that) this affects everyone.”
  • Weiss has worked with hundreds of shelters and local organizations like Equity.Period. to provide essential items, including menstrual products, to people experiencing homelessness.

The girls want to influence state policy

  • Houlehan and Zschoche said their next goal is to support Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s “Ax the Taxes” bill, which would eliminate state taxes on sales of feminine hygiene products, diapers and some food items.
  • The two also visited local lawmakers, and Houlehan testified before the state tax committee in support of the plan.
  • “It’s been really amazing to see the impact in other schools and other communities, because it really makes a difference to everyone’s day-to-day life,” Houlehan said. “It’s a very proud and inspiring moment when you realize that you’re not only providing physical products, but you’re helping an effort that could change the way people think about the affordability of those products.”

Read more: Learn more about Equity.Period. on their Instagram page here and visit their website here.

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