We’re proud to support UnTabooed, a non-profit organization that provides menstrual education and reusable products to women in need in the United States. Read on for an interview with founder Diandra Kalish to learn more about her work with UnTabooed and how you can help.
GladRags: Tell us a little about yourself and how UnTabooed started.
Diandra Kalish: I am an educator first and foremost. I have taught English, and worked at education nonprofits, and wanted to use education as a tool to solve a problem that needed a better solution. In January, I came across Lisa De Bode’s article in Al Jazeera America about the challenges that homeless women across America face during their periods. As some one who has donated many bags of food and clothing, it had never occurred to me to donate feminine hygiene products.
With some more research, I discovered that many shelters don’t ask for feminine hygiene products because of the taboo that surrounds the topic. I also started to learn about organizations providing reusable products to women who also couldn’t afford or didn’t have access to the products in developing countries. Since I was already familiar with reusables myself, I wondered if there was a way I could bring that same solution to the USA. I found that though other people had recognized the need that women in the USA have, no one had tackled the problem with a sustainable solution. I had the opportunity to apply for a fellowship with this idea, and UnTabooed was born.
GR: What is UnTabooed’s mission and how do you achieve those goals?
DK: UnTabooed is committed to breaking the taboo surrounding menstruation by providing menstrual health education and sustainable menstrual products to women in need, and promoting conversation among women everywhere. We use reusable menstrual products to help women take a step out of poverty. We aim to take away the shame and the “ick factor” that most women associate with menstruation by empowering and helping them reclaim their dignity. We strive to make sure women stay safe and healthy by educating about overall menstrual health. Finally, we want to help the environment by helping more women switch from the conventional disposable menstrual products to reusable products.
I personally make sure to talk about periods with everyone now. That’s the start of breaking the taboo. UnTabooed also runs formal educational workshops and attends events to promote our mission and introduce more people to reusables.
GR: What’s one of your workshops like? How do the attendees respond to the material and the products?
DK: Most of these workshops take place in centers for homeless and low-income girls and women in and around New York City. I like to make my workshops as interactive as possible. I also make sure to set up in a circle, so it feels like an open dialogue and makes people feel more comfortable. I start by asking about feminine hygiene products, what people use, if they find them expensive, if anyone has heard of reusables. Then I talk about the menstrual cycle. Next, I introduce both cloth pads and menstrual cups, talking about how to use them and how to properly care for them. I end by outlining the benefits to making the switch to reusables. After the workshop, participants may choose to take either 2 cloth pads or a cloth pantyliner and a menstrual cup.
I’ve had a great response in my workshops so far. I work with a range of ages, and participants from different backgrounds, and everyone is happy to review the health education. Most participants are totally in awe of reusables, but after learning about them, and seeing and touching samples during the workshop, they want to try them out.
GR: There’s been a lot of press lately about obstacles surrounding healthy menstruation in “developing” countries. Why focus on women in the USA?
DK: This is one of the questions I get asked most frequently. As I mentioned above, the idea was sparked by reading about the struggles homeless women in the USA face. As someone who has done a lot of volunteering and work with charities abroad, I understand why it’s appealing, but I think we often lose sight of the fact that every country has issues. Menstruation is still a taboo topic in the USA, and there are still many people who don’t have access to safe water and sanitation every day. Also, it’s important to me to be involved and present in my own community.
GR: Do you use reusables? When did you make the switch?
DK: I do! I bought myself a menstrual cup about 2.5 years ago. I decided to move abroad to teach English after graduating college. I had bought a one way ticket to Ecuador, and didn’t know what my living situation would be. There was a lot of advice for female travelers about using cups while abroad because feminine hygiene products are so much more expensive in other parts of the world, as well as lack of access in some places. I discovered and started using cloth pads a little over 6 months ago when I began doing research for UnTabooed. I will never go back to disposables!
GR: What’s been your biggest challenge with UnTabooed?
DK: My biggest challenge has been adapting what I want UnTabooed to accomplish to truly help the clients I work with. UnTabooed aims to work with homeless women, but unfortunately women who are truly street homeless, and may not have access to bathrooms and running water for extended periods of time, will not benefit from reusables. For this reason, UnTabooed specifically works with shelters that provide housing for their clients, or with low income women who use the shelter for a resource, but live elsewhere.
GR: What’s next for UnTabooed?
DK: UnTabooed just received fiscal sponsorship! This means we can now accept tax deductible donations and apply for grants. We will be busy doing this in order to create new partnerships and reach more people.
GR: How can our readers help?
DK: Talk to everyone you know about periods, reusables, and UnTabooed. Help to break the taboo surrounding the topic of menstruation. Buy a #ReusePeriod bag from GladRags or donate to help provide women in need with menstruation education and reusable feminine hygiene products. Contact us if you’re interested in being involved in any way, especially if you’re in NYC and would like to volunteer!