In 2017, Jana Girdauskas was driving to work when she was approached by someone panhandling at her car window. With nothing to give, Girdauskas went home that night, determined to fill a bag with products for the next time she encountered someone in need. She collected a toothbrush, toothpaste, body cream, an old scarf, and - while going through her closet - menstrual products.
“I had my big ‘aha’ moment,” Girdauskas says. “I just thought ‘what is this person doing when she menstruates?’”
The idea of a “period purse” struck her.
Girdauskas posted on a local Facebook group asking if anyone had a spare purse. Within a month, Girdauskas was flooded with donations—ranging from bags, menstrual products, and wellness items.
Today, Girdauskas is the founder of The Period Purse, a non-profit, volunteer-run organization that supports hundreds of women living in Toronto shelters. The Period Purse marked its third-year anniversary on February 20.
In one purse, Girdauskas says that women and trans men will find a month’s supply of pads, tampons, underwear, socks—and depending on donations that are received—soaps, washcloths, and wipes. The purse also has a motivational note given to each person.
“It’s a note to them saying that somebody cares about you and you are loved,” Girdauskas says.
Menstrual equity refers to the affordability, accessibility, and safety of menstrual products.
In a 2018 report conducted by Plan International Canada, one-third of Canadian women under the age of 25 said that they struggled to afford menstrual products.
Saadya Hamdan, the director of gender equality at Plan International Canada, said in an interview with Global News that the results of the survey show that period poverty is a real and devastating issue faced by young women in Canada and worldwide.
“Without affordable access to menstrual hygiene products, girls and women everywhere are prevented from fulfilling their potential,” said Hamdan.
Girdauskas says that people are usually shocked to learn that period poverty exists in Canada.
In reception to her period purses, Girdauskas says that women have described what a lack of menstrual products might mean for them, and what they may resort to.
“It’s the lack of dignity that I hear most about,” Girdauskas says. “There can be recurring monthly infections because they’re making home-made products...it could be toilet paper, newspaper, cloth, socks, or using old pants.”
On its website, The Period Purse says that it has given over 33,000 healthy periods to date. This is measured by how many monthly supplies of period products have been distributed.
Girdauskas says in the past three years, she is grateful to the thousands of people who have donated products, money, and talent to combat period poverty.
“I always try to remember why we’re doing it and it’s for that one person that we’re helping,” Girdauskas says.