‘Moon Time Bags’ Combat Period Poverty While Honoring Sacred Indigenous Traditions
When immigration lawyer Eva Marie Carney worked in securities and corporate law, she never imagined she would one day start a nonprofit to fight menstrual poverty. .
It wasn’t until 2017, when Carney read an article about students at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, that she learned that students had missed school due to menstruation in her own home. court.
A dual citizen of Citizen Potawatomi Nation and the United States, Carney decided to turn her shock into action and started the Kwek Society in 2018. The women-led and managed organization, named “Kwe’k” after the word for “women” in the Potawatomi language, helps ensure that students and community members can thrive by distributing vintage products in 12 US states and one Canadian province.
Many Native Americans refer to menstruation as their “moon time” because menstrual cycles are believed to synchronize with the phases of the moon. To play up this saying, the Kwek Society distributes signature “moon bags” sewn by volunteers and filled with pads or tampons and liners to menstruators in need.
To Carney’s knowledge, the Kwek Society is the only organization working with Indigenous communities to address menstrual poverty. She credits young people with bringing to light how pervasive menstrual poverty is in all parts of the world.
“We really are a society where issues like periods just don’t get addressed on a regular basis,” Carney said. “That is changing, and I think the youth movement is changing that. They are furious that their peers don’t have what they need.
The Kwek Society operates in Arizona, Alaska, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming, as well than in Ontario, Canada. But nonprofits alone cannot solve menstrual poverty, Carney warned, and the problem needs more government funding.
Indigenous communities experience poverty at disproportionate rates due to the U.S. government dividing tribes into reservations with poor land and forced rationed resources. On the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, 50% of residents live below the poverty line.
Despite the prevalence of period poverty in low-income communities, Carney believes it’s important to note that period poverty affects everyone, everywhere. Most menstruating people had their periods by surprise in a public space and had to rush to get products, she explained.
“Everyone, not just the poor, benefits from supplies in public restrooms,” Carney said.
Where Carney lives in Arlington, Va., people experiencing period poverty might be closer to initiatives such as product drive campaigns, where they can find the resources they need. In rural areas, however, there are fewer places to turn to for help.
Any student who qualifies for the federal free or reduced lunch program is a student who may be at risk of period poverty, Carney said. For people who can afford vintage products, stamps and coin-operated stamp machines aren’t even always available, and most people don’t carry coins anymore, she explained.
“I’ve never been a fan of those public restroom liners that you often see,” Carney said. “It’s like, OK, well, let’s take their money and just put vintage supplies in the bathroom.”
The fear that someone might take more than they’re entitled to shouldn’t be a barrier, according to Carney.
“I don’t think there is a barter situation going on. There is no black market for these supplies,” she said.
The majority of schools and community efforts supported by the Kwek Society are in rural areas, where big-box and dollar stores that low-income people could rely on for period goods are hard to come by. Without reliable internet access, people also cannot order more affordable supplies online.
Carney wants the Kwek Society to stand out from some other organizations that are well-meaning but often objectify poor natives by exploiting images of them in “destitute” conditions.
“As an Indigenous person, I wanted there to be a message to students and members of the community we serve about the celebration,” Carney said.
In addition to distributing supplies, the organization strives to uplift the people it serves by sharing uplifting stories and traditions about menstruation.
The Kwek Society website highlights sacred traditions of menstruation and invites other Indigenous peoples to share theirs.
During the ch’iwa:l coming-of-age ceremony of the Hupa tribal community, menstruating young women ceremonially bathe in the river and stream with herbs each day. Meanwhile, the Isnati Tipi ceremony invites girls to set up a “moon camp” and spend four days receiving support and guidance from elders about the new phase of life they are entering.
“It’s something that I learned from the traditional teachings that were shared with me as an adult, from my background and from others I know who are Indigenous, that periods are a time of celebration. “Carney said.