New Partnership Provides Hygiene Supplies for Women in Need

October brings the kickoff of a promising new partnership to make sanitary supplies available to homeless women and others in need.

CALS is teaming up with Arkansas Women’s Outreach to start the program with an Oscar-winning short film (Period. End of Sentence) and a panel discussion on Monday, October 7 at 7:00 p.m. at the CALS Ron Robinson Theater (doors open at 6:00 p.m.). All those interested in supporting more community discussions about women’s issues and opportunities in central Arkansas are encouraged to join us!

CALS and Arkansas Women’s Outreach join forces to serve women

It can be easy to take women’s health needs for granted: many of us women can walk into stores, purchase any feminine hygiene supplies we need, and spend the day as comfortably as possible with the supplies of our choice. But for women suffering from serious financial challenges, job loss, or homelessness, that simple need for supplies can turn into a source of great anxiety and daily shame. Now, CALS is partnering with Arkansas Women’s Outreach to bring to women in our community the supplies that grant comfort and dignity for their menstrual health.

Main Library pilot program offers hygiene supplies

Thanks to Arkansas Women’s Outreach, CALS will be able to offer sanitary pads and tampons at the Main Library through a pilot program that will later expand to branch locations across the library service area. Additional programs and an award-winning film will help address the ongoing stigma surrounding women’s menstrual health—a stigma that causes health problems, social problems, and shame where none should exist. The goal of both the supplies and the programming is that all women should be treated with respect and humanity in having access to basic hygiene supplies, as well as access to women’s health education.

Private effort from library staff turns into search for partners

Crystal Edwards, Adult Programmer at the CALS Main Library, saw the need to help women in our community and reached out to partners.

“Our department at Main Library has been providing pads and tampons to the public for a couple of years that staff members were purchasing out of pocket,” Edwards said. “We kept a small box behind the desk and refilled it when necessary.”

When another staff member suggested that the library system expand the effort, Edwards began to consider contacting Arkansas Women’s Outreach, a group already known for its successful work in the area of women’s hygiene. “Then I found out that the Teen Department at Main Library had also been handing out hygiene products bought by staff,” Edwards said.  “So we were all working on it in our own areas.” Edwards started to brainstorm with colleague Katherine O’Bryan, Teen Programmer, to envision a new programming effort and to reach out for partners.

Arkansas Women’s Outreach extends its crucial work to more women through CALS

Pam De Gravelles, president of Arkansas Women’s Outreach, was delighted to hear from Edwards and O’Bryan, as there had also been similar plans developing on the AWO side.

“One of our Strategic Plan goals for AWO for the next four years is to extend our reach. We always thought the library would be a great partner,” De Gravelles said. “Then, before we even contacted CALS, they contacted us, and we thought it was a match!”

Arkansas Women’s Outreach has attracted community donations and external grants for its mission to supply basic hygiene items such as pads, tampons, or wipes. Such fundraising strength and abundant supplies can be spread farther by the easy accessibility of CALS library branches for many neighborhoods, and the relationships that CALS staff develop with their branch visitors.

“The library will allow us to expand our reach because a lot of people need our product, and we can’t get to them all,” De Gravelles said. “The library will have 14 different access points in the community starting with the pilot program at the CALS Main Library. It’s a perfect blend of our resources and volunteers and the library’s reach and staff.”

Lack of hygiene supplies should not be a source of shame for any woman

De Gravelles described the pressing need for those women who are in difficult straits such as homelessness that affect their access to pads and tampons.

“For feminine hygiene, these women have to steal, hide, and go without. Or, they have to use whatever they find, and that’s dehumanizing. We thought, what if we can just bring a little dignity back for them? What if they can have some choice about what they use, just like other women do when they shop? It’s a win for everyone when people get their dignity back.”

De Gravelles was delighted to find like-minded partners at CALS “It was such a match when we met Crystal and Katherine.” She is also enthusiastic about the additional programming, such as the kickoff featuring the recent Oscar-winning documentary Period. End of Sentence.

Oscar-winning documentary short film will raise awareness, decrease stigma

Crystal Edwards chose the film Period. End of Sentence. as a natural enhancement to the new partnership and effort to support women in the community.

“I knew that the film had won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short. I also knew that it was about the stigma surrounding menstruation, and the challenges faced by young women, so it fit perfectly for our project,” Edwards said. “We plan to have a discussion panel afterward. The film shows a rural area in India where there’s still a lot of stigma, lack of knowledge, and lack of education about the issue. There’s a moment when a filmmaker asks what a period is, and the camera focuses on a girl’s face, and she looks so ashamed. Everybody can relate to that. Some girls won’t even tell their parents when they start, and instead they try to buy their own supplies.”

Helping teens enter a new stage of life with confidence

CALS Youth Programmer Katherine O’Bryan is familiar with the challenges faced by teen girls surrounding menstruation and women’s hygiene.

“It totally makes sense for the teens to participate in this programming because they’re just coming into this phase of their lives, when all the women’s health issues become important,” O’Bryan said. “And some of our teens are homeless. They’re better at hiding homelessness than adults because they’re often embarrassed about it. So one sign that they may be struggling is if they come in and repeatedly ask for these kinds of hygiene products. They come into the teen bathrooms and see our signs in the bathroom, then they come ask. The sign is like us making the first move to acknowledge the need and the issue. Because when you acknowledge it, everybody takes a deep breath of relief that we can talk about it.

O’Bryan is looking forward to the chance to open many conversations and help teens feel more comfortable taking care of their health. “In the coming months, we’re going to set up some women’s health programming for the teens. But for Gen Z, it’s good to take a humorous approach. They want this kind of information, but they want it presented in a way that’s not so serious.”

The kickoff for the new partnership will take place with the screening of Academy Award-winning Period. End of Sentence. on October 7th at 7:00 p.m. at the CALS Ron Robinson Theater, followed by a discussion panel.