– BY KIRSTIE MCCRUM –
Plastic bags, newspapers, dirty socks. Period poverty sees women using anything, because for the homeless or economically vulnerable, sanitary protection is simply too expensive a luxury. A new USA initiative is attempting to help those who can’t afford pads and tampons: Claire Coder’s Aunt Flow buy-one, give-one subscription box. Taking care of your flow, takes care of her flow.
Coder says she was stunned to learn that in her native USA, menstrual hygiene products weren’t covered by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). ‘I found out that many of the 16 million women living in poverty in the US struggle to get these basic products,’ she reveals, despite measures put in place by the Food and Nutrition Service. Aiming to help those women living in desperation and inspired by her mother, Coder got an idea.
Easier to soil clothes than to get a tampon
Coder’s mum, an art therapist, frequently dealt with women who were struggling with their basic needs. She explained to a young Claire that her clients often wore plastic bags and multiple layers of clothing when on their periods. The reason? It was easier to soil garments than to get a tampon… ‘I knew I needed to create a sustainable solution. That is why I founded Aunt Flow,’ says Coder. At just 19, she dropped out of college to pursue the business: a buy-one, give-one subscription box for tampons and pads. For every box of 18 bought, the customer chooses one of five beneficiary organisations to receive a ‘give-one’ box.
Although Coder is fighting for women in serious distress, she has a sense of humour about her role. ‘Never did I think that I was going to be talking about menstruation for a living,’ she smiles. ‘When I was younger, I dreamed of being a princess. In some ways, I’m living that dream. I wear an invisible tampon tiara, I wave around a magical pad, and I eat a lot of food. In my Perfect Period Palace, everyone has access to tampons and pads.’
Despite changing her career path just to offer sanitary protection for those who need it, Coder says she wants to be ‘that girl other entrepreneurs point to when explaining to their parents that they can be successful without a college degree’. ‘For me, success is not a college degree, it’s how comfortably you can talk about tampons,’ she adds. The taboo on periods didn’t do much to help her get noticed. ‘Starting a company is hard. Starting a company that only half the population can truly relate to is even harder. But starting a company surrounding something that no one wants to talk about is f*cking difficult.’
Why not start ‘down there’?
Based in Columbus, Ohio (USA), Aunt Flow launched sales on 20 November 2016 following fundraising of $40,000 through competitions and crowdfunding. ‘No topic should ever be off-limits. People will always have varying opinions and we must respect this. But just because you don’t agree with someone, doesn’t mean you should shy away from conversation.’ Coder: ‘I understand that tampons won’t solve poverty, but ensuring humans have access to their basic needs is a start. We need to start somewhere, so why not ‘down there’?’
Follow the Aunt Flow journey via their website.
About the author
Kirstie McCrum is an award-winning Manchester-based news and features journalist. She mostly writes about social issues, feminism, art & culture, and health & wellbeing. Her writing has been featured in the New Statesman, Mirror Online, Wales Online, the Guardian and more. You can follow Kirstie on Twitter via @kirstiemccrum.
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