Everyone’s talking about (or should be talking about) the horrific and inhumane conditions people are facing at migrant detention centers at the border.
Aside from the fact that detainees are being imprisoned at the border for months in some cases, they’re being trapped in horrible conditions and denied basic human rights. To say the detention centers are unsanitary and overcrowded would be an understatement.
What’s another issue we aren’t highlighting enough? Periods. Shocker!
We as a society are still nervous to openly talk about periods. Many people (especially cisgender men) view the topic as taboo or even “gross.”
If we aren’t discussing periods in general, we’re not talking about yet another hardship these people at the border are facing: it’s really hard to be a person with a period at these detention centers.
People with periods are literally sitting in their own blood, with extremely limited access to menstrual care products — we’re talking maybe one pad a day. The general rule of thumb is to change a menstrual pad every six hours. If someone has a heavy flow, however, the pads need to be changed much more often.
Clearly these people need help. They’re in beyond subpar conditions, and having a period in this environment makes the situation even more miserable for them!
Luckily we have some amazing activists taking action. Enter: PERIOD, the largest youth-run women’s health nonprofit in the country.
We spoke with Nina Sarhan, the Coalition Director and Director of Special Projects for PERIOD, about their “Dignity Has No Borders” fundraising project. Sarhan plans to travel down to El Paso in November with PERIOD founder Nadya Okamoto to meet with some of the women who have been in ICE detention centers and are now living in camps.
Here are the questions we asked her:
Public Goods: What inspired PERIOD to get involved with the situation at the border?
Nina Sarhan: When the Huffington Post article was published detailing the lawsuit against The Department of Homeland Security highlighting abusive conditions of migrant women bleeding through their clothes with no access to menstrual products, both Nadya and I knew we had to do something.
The difference between this new generation of “Gen-Z” leaders — like Nadya — is that they are all about direct action. Within 24 hours of us crying on the phone, she had turned around and secured 1 million donations in product from our brand partners.
PG: What is the main period-related problem people are facing in the detention centers and camps?
NS: According to the lawsuit:
“Another girl was detained for ten days and never offered a shower, even though she was on her period and was given only one sanitary pad a day. After a number of days, she summoned her courage and asked for a shower, and was given one. She recalls there was another girl at the facility who was also on her period. They were each given one sanitary pad per day. Although the guards knew they had their periods, they were not offered showers or a change of clothes, even when the other girl visibly bled through her pants. This girl had no choice but to continue to wear her soiled underwear and pants.”
PG: Can you tell us about what you and Nadya will be doing in November when you head to El Paso?
NS: We will be traveling both in the city of El Paso and across the actual border itself, to refugee camps located on the Mexico side of the border. Through arrangements with our network in that region, the Alliance for Border Collaboratives, we will be distributing period products, and meeting with some women who have been released from ICE detention centers and living in camps or housed through the Collaboratives network.
We will additionally be speaking with the sole doctor who is working in the camps, addressing the needs of 50,000 migrants, and seeing how we can better assist her and her work. We hope to elevate their stories in addition to the service work we are doing there, as advocacy and awareness are parts of our mission that accompany the service piece.
PG: Aside from donating to the Dignity Has No Borders campaign, how can we support people with periods being detained or held at the border?
NS: The conditions in the ICE detention centers aren’t just poor; they’re abusive. Even the headlines on CNN don’t reflect the lack of humane treatment that defines these centers, operating 24/7 on U.S. soil.
As Americans we are so inundated with tragedy blasts from every type of media platform we can give our attention to, and horrific situations lose their shock value, especially when we have taken no action to change that situation (lookin’ at you – gun violence!).
This crisis specifically is important to keep the nation’s attention on. This crisis is speeding up, not slowing down. In states across America, even here in DC, ICE is trying to open up a new ‘minor’s detention center’ for migrant children in the DMV area. It is so crucial to remind people that this is still happening and that each day that passes, thousands of human rights abuses are being committed. We cannot become numb or look away to ignore because it’s too uncomfortable to confront. We have to take a stand. It’s critical to keep our news media tuned into the conditions.
The National Organization for Women [NOW] is leading a series of protests across the country for their #UnlockTheFuture Campaign. You can sign their Bill of Rights to demand humane treatment in these detention centers, and you can also join them for a rally in a city close to you. You can also always help raise attention by contacting your senators via social media, emails and phone calls. Don’t let them forget this is happening.
Now is the time to use our privilege to help those who need it most. As Sarhan noted, there are multiple ways that we can get involved, and we can’t turn a blind eye to the horrors that are occurring.
If you want to join forces with PERIOD to demand change surrounding various problems that people with periods face, check out their site for information on National Period Day to see where you can rally in your state.
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