Democracy 101 to tackle menstrual equity

By Annie Giffels | 3/19/18 12:18am

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GVL/Kevin Sielaff - Heather Tafel, associate professor of political science at GVSU, presents during Grand Valley's first Democracy: 101 event inside the Kirkhof Center on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017.

On Friday, March 23, Grand Valley State University will be welcoming author, lawyer and feminist Jennifer Weiss-Wolf to discuss a subject that makes many people cringe: menstrual equity. 

The Democracy 101 event, "Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equality," will take place in the Holton-Hooker Learning and Living Center at noon. The event is scheduled to last an hour with time for questions at the end. In addition, attendees who bring in factory-sealed menstrual products to donate will be entered to win Weiss-Wolf’s novel for free.

Menstrual equity, a term coined by Weiss-Wolf herself, is the fight for fairness for all women when it comes to their menstruation. It is the fight for new laws that make sanitary products safe and easy to access, and the belief that tampons and other sanitary items used for menstruation should not be taxed.

Weiss-Wolf is the author of "Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity." It chronicles her journey as a lawyer and a feminist in making a change for menstruating people all around the world. 

For the homeless, the impoverished and the incarcerated, getting a period can be debilitating. Those who do not have access to safe, affordable and necessary sanitary items are, in Weiss-Wolf’s opinion, missing out on a basic human right. 

Karen Zivi, an associate professor of political science in the Frederik Meijer Honors College, was doing her own research on activism pertaining to menstruation when she came across Weiss-Wolf’s novel and work. With the help of Melissa Baker-Boosamra, associate director of student life for civic engagement and assessment at GVSU, Zivi was able to get into contact with Weiss-Wolf and secure her an opportunity to share her knowledge.

“We do host authors pretty often,” Baker-Boosamra said. “But this is an emerging conversation and it is a facet of feminism as we are moving into this kind of new era. This is an extremely important discussion.”  

Baker-Boosamra believes that discussions on topics such as this are hard to come by on a college campus. Zivi touched on that same thought.

“This is an event that’s meant to introduce a lot of people to a topic they might not know much about,” Zivi said. “It’s something that’s really important for thinking about reproductive justice and our place in society.”

Along with reproductive justice, Weiss-Wolf will be discussing the stigma that follows the many different topics regarding reproductive health. Many people consider menstruation and the reproductive rights of women in general to be taboo and avoid discussing these topics altogether. 

“Menstruation should not impact one’s ability to participate fully in public life,” Zivi said. Through research, Zivi has become aware of the ways in which limited access to sanitary products can strip menstruating individuals of their dignity, in addition to their ability to participate in everyday life. 

Baker-Boosamra and Zivi are looking forward to the discussion and hope students are as well. 

“I’m excited to hear more from her about how that topic provides a window into the cultural lack of respect for women’s bodies,” Baker-Boosamra said.

Many changes have already begun to take place with the help of Weiss-Wolf and her novel. With firsthand stories from those in need, everyday people and different leaders, Weiss-Wolf shared how she and others joined the fight for menstrual equity, one policy at a time. 

For students and attendees looking to read up on Weiss-Wolf before she arrives at GVSU, her novel can be found at the bookstore, and attendees will also get the chance to get their copy signed by Weiss-Wolf herself. This event is LIB 100- and 201-approved and open to anyone hoping to learn about something new or gain more information on a topic they may already feel strongly about. 

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