Women’s History Month: The Flow Initiative
During Women’s History Month, we’re spotlighting incredible historical and current history-making women across the world as well as local women and their greatest female inspirations that empower them to make a difference every day.
When one thinks of donation supplies, period products and the specific needs of women are not often top of mind for Americans. The monthly occurrence that menstruating people must endure is, for those unable to afford or have access to period products, a nightmare that’s hard to publicly ask for help for without judgment or stigma attached. With little support from the people in power, period poverty is a silent secret plaguing our community, but one woman is on a mission to make it be heard.
Making Loud an Unspoken Problem
In 2018, Eiko La Boria, a Jersey City-based writer, was reading a book on Western Africa and one sentence about impoverished girls hitting puberty and freely bleeding down their legs without access to menstrual products struck her in a way she had never felt before. At this point she had never heard of the term “period poverty.”
“I started to wonder if this was a problem in the U.S., thinking that I wouldn’t find a single thing. And then I found it was the opposite. It’s a very big problem,” said Eiko. “I felt so strongly that there was this moment in time that called me forth to do something.”
She started questioning everyone she knew if they had heard of period poverty, and the response she got was an overwhelming disbelief that we could have a problem like that here. This set Eiko on her journey to spreading awareness with the founding of The Flow Initiative, a grassroots, nonprofit charity with the mission to eradicate period poverty, establish menstrual equity, and elevate gender equality beginning in Jersey City.
“It is a movement where menstruating people, women, girls are realizing their power in promoting and provoking change and unapologetically demanding more while putting up with less because so much of why period poverty exists lies in misogynistic, patriarchal practices,” said Eiko.
What the Initiative fights against primarily are the problems of period poverty and menstrual equity. For people living paycheck to paycheck or receiving government aid, hard choices need to be made when it comes to purchases, and oftentimes, due to the price and frequency needed to buy period products, they are overlooked as a necessity. This aspect of period poverty leads to harmful negative effects, especially on the mental health of young women in school. Through a survey of over 100 girls at a local high school, Eiko found that 28% had missed school because they could not afford period products and stayed home to avoid being bullied or made fun of by their classmates for stained clothes or bleeding in class. The national average is 20%, which signaled to Eiko that Jersey City has a big, unaddressed problem.
The second aspect of period poverty is menstrual inequality, which affects every socio-economic class.
“Menstrual equity is about access to period products,” said Eiko. “You could be the richest woman on the planet, and I promise you there’s been a time where she’s gotten her period, went to a bathroom and didn’t have access to a period product. The next frontier is making sure all public bathrooms and everywhere menstruating people frequent grants access to these products.”
Public bathrooms, such as in restaurants or retail stores, are not required to provide access to free or purchasable period products. Jersey City’s City Hall, as Eiko points out, does not currently have vending machines for women. This is a clear indication that the needs of women are not widely considered important, or even considered at all.
With all of this in mind, Eiko has put her heart into the Initiative to help change this lack of access through her donation and awareness efforts. She began hosting drives and reaching out to partners around the county who were in need of these donations. Her efforts have created a staggering list of recipients, including our public schools, all three shelters in Hudson County, women’s centers like Women Rising and Hope House, the New Jersey Reentry Corporation for women coming out of prison and reentering society, soup kitchens, community fridges, Triangle Park Community Center pantry, public libraries, among others.
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To date, Eiko has lost count of the hundreds of thousands of products she has funneled into our community in just two short years thanks to press opportunities, monetary donations from caring supporters, donation drives, and awareness events, including a summer Bona Dea Fest with the Jersey City Women’s Collaborative where people gathered to share their stories, poems, and experiences while creating art in celebration of menstruation.
Eiko is a tireless advocate for women, hosting her own events, attending protests, and even testifying in front of the Senate Commerce Committee in support of Bill S2039, which prohibits gender-based price discrimination also known as the “pink tax.”
“The pandemic has put the non-profit on overdrive because period poverty was an issue before but the pandemic definitely exacerbated it,” said Eiko, who through the Initiative, has donated over 15,000 period products since the beginning of the pandemic alone. “The more I donate and the more I speak out, the more I see this immense problem of gender inequality and want to push for menstrual equity and strong legislative change.”
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The Future is Female in JC
While Eiko feels immense pride for the product she’s been able to collect for women in need, she knows that the future of The Flow Initiative cannot lie solely in donations. It requires change, something that Eiko is prepared to push for at the highest level.
“I don’t want to be donating pads for the rest of my life because there’s been no policy change for better access to products,” said Eiko. “What we need is strong legislative change and a dedicated department that identifies issues that women are experiencing and creates solutions and policies to address them.”
To this end, Eiko, along with Monica Meiterman-Rodriguez, has created a branch of The Flow Initiative called Jersey City Women, a group advocating for the creation of an official Jersey City Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. Eiko’s experience amplifying and elevating the need for gender equality as a United States of Women Ambassador of Gender Equality helped her recognize the gaps in Jersey City and gather data to find solutions to these problems. The group put together the Jersey City Women Survey to better understand women’s stories and the issues that are personally affecting them or the people around them with the ultimate goal being to create the Commission to accurately represent and advocate for these issues.
In addition to the survey, the group held a virtual JC Women’s Town Hall during Women’s History Month to bring together and hear from women in the community about their struggles and feelings on representation in the city. In Hudson County, 77% of elected officials are male, yet both the highest demographic and the fastest growing demographic of people that vote are women despite having little representation to vote for in an office. The future, as Eiko sees it, is female, and to get there, women need to start realizing and harnessing their power to create change together.
“I want to see more women mobilize and work towards putting women in decision-making roles, not just simply roles designed to say, ‘Oh look, we have a woman.’ We want women to create the agenda instead of following the agenda of men that is predominantly pro-men,” said Eiko. “I just really believe in women. And I really want women to believe in women.”
Inspired By Fighting Spirits
Strong, inspiring women are often influenced by other strong, inspiring women, and Eiko is no exception. For her, the women she admires the most are like her: they fight for what they know is right, no matter how uncomfortable it makes men in power. One of these women is the iconic activist Rosa Parks, whose historical act of defiance set the civil rights movement on fire. Eiko admires that spirit and sees a lot of her struggle as something women today are still up against in the fight for equality and power.
“In many ways I feel like the women of Jersey City have been in the back of the bus for far too long, allowing whomever to take the wheel and drive,” said Eiko. “I think it’s time for women to collectively not only move to the front of the bus but take over the driver’s seat and decide where the bus is heading.”
Another powerful woman Eiko looks up to who is more recently making history as an activist is Stacey Abrams, a political leader, voting rights activist, and former House representative for Georgia who launched the Fair Fight organization to ensure every American has a voice in our election system.
“One of my favorite quotes from Stacey is, ‘We must cease being participants in our own oppression,’” said Eiko. “We need to vote in our own self-interest. Men have been doing that forever so we should, too. Men are elevating on our shoulders, and we’re still just trying to stand up straight.”
Stacey’s powerful words really took hold of Eiko, giving her the motivation to keep going even in the face of those putting her and her cause down as something to be dismissed and ignored.
“Another one of my favorite [Stacey] quotes is, ‘Like most who are underestimated, I have learned to overperform and found soft but key ways to take credit because ultimately leadership and power require the confidence to effectively wield both,’” said Eiko. “After I read that quote, I went into overdrive and that’s when things really started to blossom. I was a rocket and someone lit the match! … Definitely when people underestimate you, overperform. That’s going to be my mantra for the rest of my life.”
Go with The Flow – How to Support the Initiative
Make sure to follow The Flow Initiative and Jersey City Women on Instagram @theflowinitiative and @jerseycitywomen and Facebook @theflowinitiativefoundation and @jerseycitywomen for the latest updates on awareness events, product drives, and ways to volunteer. You can find and anonymously fill out the Jersey City Women Survey to help gather data of gender inequality in JC here. If you’re interested in collaboration with The Flow Initiative, you can contact Eiko directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.