One in three students in America leaves or misses school entirely because they don’t have access to period products.
In 2017, a real-world example came to light. Students at a school on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota were reportedly missing up to a week of school each time they had their period. This adds up to one quarter of the school year.
When Eva Marie Carney heard this, it angered her.
How could this be happening in the United States? To Carney, who herself has dual citizenship (the United States and the Potawatomi Nation), the struggles of indigenous women are all too familiar. To add missing school to the mix was the turning point for her.
Carney sought out groups that would help ease the burden for students across the country but came up with nothing. That’s when in 2018 she founded The Kwek Society.
Kwek is not simply fighting period poverty on behalf of indigenous communities. What started out as an organization focused on giving products to a specific reservation quickly turned into a massive effort to address the issue as a broader poverty problem, impacting more than indigenous peoples.
Today, the Arlington-based organization focuses on providing schools with Moon Time Bags— small, hand-sewn bags that fit about four pads, a few liners and a message of encouragement and celebration.
After students receive the products from The Kwek Society, the organization plants the seed of self-advocacy by asking students if they’ve brought the lack of period supplies to the attention of the principal or school board. Though the idea of addressing higher-ups doesn’t often cross students’ minds at first, the deliveries sometimes spark greater change.
“There have been a few occasions when I’ve seen the students decide they are going to fight for their rights,” Carney said.
Among one the most rewarding things Carney has experienced is receiving letters from students who tell her that the Moon Time Bags have allowed them to stay in school.
“I’ll get messages that say, ‘I thought I was going to get my period, and I knew that if I went to school, we would have the products there that I like,’” Carney said. “It’s very rewarding to be able to furnish the people we serve with what they need and want to receive because it’s obviously a very personal issue. We are really attempting to destigmatize periods and talk about them very openly.”
The Work to Be Done
While The Kwek Society has been able to fill the gap in many communities, Carney believes there’s more to be done.
“I want to continue to nurture the organization and ideally bring in other people that will help take The Kwek Society to new heights,” Carney said.
Ideally, every student in school should have a properly stocked bathroom with the period supplies they need. But this comes at a cost.
“Because we’re not buying wholesale, lower quality supplies, our work is expensive without donations,” Carney said.
Carney hopes to garner more support and spread the message that there are people experiencing the challenges and health implications of period poverty right in your own backyard.
“Some people think it’s a problem in other places but not where they live,” Carney said.
“We are engaging very actively in Native American communities, but the last thing I want people to take away is that period poverty is a Native problem. We are addressing a serious poverty problem— and because period products are so expensive, it’s a problem found in every community. Even a community that you think is well-off.”
If you would like to join The Kwek Society in fighting period poverty, you can donate here. You can follow Kwek Society on Instagram, Facebook and X. If you would like to help assemble Moon Time Bags, instructions are found here.