The monthly visit

June 6, 2019

Kudos to Sanford Technology Group, to the National Association of Women in Construction, the American Association of University Women, and to the pre-med students in the University of Guam’s American Medical Students Association. The people in these forward-thinking entities, starting with the trail-blazing Saina Toni Sanford, recently made donations to the Bureau of Women’s Affairs’ Project Sottera.

 

Project Sottera is designed to keep girls and young women in school or at work every day of the month, because one of the things I learned early on when taking on the directorship of the bureau is a not-often-thought-about fact that many of the families on this island that receive welfare benefits (about 34 percent of our population, according to officials at Public Health) simply cannot afford monthly feminine hygiene products. These products are not covered under the SNAP (food stamps) benefits, and at an average cost of about $10 a package, they are expensive.


So what do girls do? According to the school nurses and others who work with this population, they use toilet paper, or paper towels, or whatever they can find – rags, old clothing, whatever is handy.

 

I conducted a recent survey at Public Health about Project Sottera, and one of the common responses from women is that they sometimes use their baby’s disposable diapers – which takes some planning on their part, because you only get so many diapers per month, too. Or, after the nurses have used up whatever supplies their meager budgets will allow for purchase, the nurses and some of the schools’ staffers purchase these products (usually menstrual pads) and either give them out to the girls who ask, or they charge a quarter, 50 cents, or maybe even a dollar, depending on the size of the pad and the school. If girls don’t have the money, they write the nurse or staffer and “IOU,” which most say almost never get paid up.

I bring all this up again because I’ve gotten some feedback about Project Sottera along the lines of “The government should be providing these to the girls.” 

I bring all this up again because I’ve gotten some feedback about Project Sottera along the lines of “The government should be providing these to the girls.”

 

You are absolutely correct. Our government should be providing these products for girls in public schools, because most of the families whose children attend public schools on Guam cannot afford them.

 

According to several sources though, currently only three states —California, Illinois and New York — provide menstrual products in public middle and high schools for free. New Hampshire just passed a similar law and it is awaiting the governor’s signature. But right now, our government on Guam is not financially equipped to do this. So, enter Project Sottera.

 

Perhaps next year all 10 of our female lawmakers, and the five male lawmakers who are all fathers, will co-sponsor a bill exempting these products from the gross receipts tax, so that they become cheaper, either for families to purchase, or for our government to provide in our public schools. Sen Regine Biscoe Lee bravely sponsored such a bill in the 34th Legislature, but – incredibly- it received so much negative backlash that she dropped it.

 

Project Sottera is so important because it raises awareness. Awareness that menstruation is a fact of life that every female experiences once a month on average starting in middle school. Some start even younger. Awareness that these products, like food, are a necessity for women. Awareness brings knowledge, and knowledge is power. The more young women know about their menstrual cycle, the more control they have over their bodies, the more they will be able to stay in school, do sports, take part in activities, avoid getting pregnant, etc.

 

So if you think Project Sottera is bothersome because you think the government should be supplying these products in our public schools for girls whose families cannot afford them, think again.

 

As the director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, whose job it is to empower women (and girls), I ask you to cast aside your displeasure and be part of the solution. Not part of the problem.

 

Especially if you are a woman.

 

 

 

 

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To donate to Project Sottera, email Jayne Flores, director of Bureau of Women’s Affairs, at jayne.flores@guam.gov.

 

 

 

 

 

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