Menstrual Poverty and The Kwek Society
Our Bodies Ourselves Today Content Expert Eva Marie Carney discusses menstrual poverty, her work with Indigenous students and communities, and the founding of The Kwek Society.
Eva Marie Carney: Hello, I’m Eva Marie Carney. I am the Founder and Executive Director of The Kwek Society, K-W-E-K. It means “women” in the Potawatomi language of my ancestors. It’s lovely to be here.
OBOS Today: Now tell me about menstrual poverty in Indigenous communities.
Eva Marie Carney: Okay, [OBOS Today] I’m happy to do that, but I want to say right off the bat that menstrual poverty is menstrual poverty. It isn’t about necessarily Indigenous people. This isn’t an Indigenous problem. What this is, what we’re talking about is period poverty is when you cannot afford basic menstrual supplies to address what we, Indigenous people, often call their moon time, their periods. And so if you are someone who has a lower income, you have a lot of family members, you don’t have a job, or your family doesn’t have a good job, then you are at risk for period poverty. There’s been certainly a systemic oppression and isolation of Indigenous people in the United States and so there are quite a few Indigenous people that live in very rural and remote areas of the United States.
So those folks definitely are at serious risk for period poverty because good jobs aren’t available, there aren’t big box stores nearby to buy the products, perhaps they don’t have good transportation and it’s a long way to get somewhere where they can get affordable products, but I will say that Indigenous people live all throughout the United States, and Canada, and the rest of the world. And so in fact I saw a statistic a few years ago that there were more Indigenous people in New York City than anywhere else in the country and that’s because there’s so many people in New York. So what The Kwek Society does is focus on Indigenous communities, but that can mean and does mean that we are addressing period poverty in cities like Flagstaff, Arizona and Oklahoma City as well as on rural reservations here in the United States.
OBOS Today: So tell me a little bit more about The Kwek Society and particularly its impact on Indigenous students, as well.
Eva Marie Carney: Sure, happy to do that. So, The Kwek Society has as its focus schools and programs that serve significant Indigenous populations. So right now, we are serving almost 110 different schools and programs across the United States and Canada. We’re in currently 14 states and what we do very specifically is get period care items: cotton underwear, tampons, liners, pads, sometimes period underwear if requested, sometimes menstrual cups or reusable supplies as requested, to those schools and communities. It’s not just for the Native kids in those schools and communities, though, it’s for all who are in need of supplies and would risk missing school or, in some cases, missing work if they don’t have the supplies that they need.
We also furnish puberty education books, which we’re always excited to provide, and we find that there are many schools that don’t have the resources to have those types of books on their shelves. We also do something that we call our moon time bags, which are small cotton bags that aunt, we call them aunties, you know, generally older ladies, sew for us, they’re made out of cotton material, pretty patterns, they typically hold like three pads and two liners. We put in a card that has this portion of a poem written by Joy Harjo about the moon. So they’re, and they’re a small gift that we ask be given to the young ones as they are approaching their moon time. Typically, a lot of Native people call periods moon time. So as they’re approaching their moon time, so that they will be ready with products to address their periods when that time comes, and that those moon time bags be accompanied with appropriate puberty education. So that’s what we do in a nutshell.
OBOS Today: How can people get involved in combating menstrual poverty?
Eva Marie Carney: Well, there’s so, so many different ways. I mean one of the most important things, I think, is to talk about periods to address the elephant in the room which is that people don’t talk about periods because they’re ashamed about them and that’s, you know, that’s not how this should be, it’s not how things should be. So talking about periods, addressing the fact there are not period products in public bathrooms the way other necessities are provided. So, why is there soap? Why are there hand towels? Why is there toilet paper? But there aren’t period products. So, starting to ask those questions, asking them of your political leaders, asking them of your manager at an office if you work in an office, for example. Those things all can help address this issue because if more people are aware, it will be–it will become commonplace that the janitors’ cart that restocks your bathroom will have these products on them going forward, just as it has all the other products that are already in there.
There’s countless numbers of groups now that are focused on addressing period poverty in different communities. I think we are the only one in North America, as I know it, who are focused–that is focused on Indigenous people. But, there are folks that are looking at un-homed people, people in prison, people–just diaper banks, so folks that are in poverty, if they need diapers, they also probably need period products. So, contributing to those types of organizations can be very important.
And then, you know, if you particularly want to help The Kwek Society, I would say, you know, go on to our website. We have lots of ways to help, maybe you sew, maybe you want to do a pad drive. So that address is KwekSociety.org or just Google “Kwek Society.” It’s an unusual enough name that it’s gonna come right up. So, so thank you for your interest. I really appreciate this opportunity to chat.