Julia Witecki and Carleigh Templin have a message for adolescent girls: Periods are nothing to be ashamed about. Period.
The Jason Lee Middle School students organized a “Bleedership” conference Saturday at Tacoma’s Trinity Presbyterian Church. The focus was empowering young girls and women to celebrate menstruation, not conceal it.
“You can’t choose not to have a period,” 13-year-old Carleigh said.
The Tacoma students used the conference to raise awareness about Days for Girls International, a Washington nonprofit that has distributed more than 250,000 “menstruation kits” around the world. The organization has a goal that every girl and woman in the world have easy access to quality, sustainable hygiene and women’s health education by 2022.
That starts by providing them with fabric sanitary pads they can wash and reuse, said April Haberman, social venture director of the organization’s Edmonds chapter.
“Millions and millions of girls and women around the world don’t have access to feminine hygiene,” Haberman told a group of nearly 70 girls and women gathered at the conference.
For school-aged girls that means they must stay home from school and hide every month when they are menstruating, she said. In some countries, girls drop out of school altogether once they get their period.
When Julia’s mother told her about Days for Girls, Julia knew she wanted to help.
She identified the nonprofit as the centerpiece of a Girl Scout project she needed to complete to earn the Silver Award, the second-highest award given to a troop member.
After announcing her intent to her troop, Carleigh, a close friend, stepped up to help.
You can’t choose not to have a period.
Carleigh Templin, 13, Bleedership Conference co-organizer
The girls spent the six months preparing. That included reaching out to people for donations of fabric, sewing machines and materials for the kits.
Stations were set up Saturday to create the reusable sanitary pads.
Seven electric sewing machines hummed as volunteers took pieces of cut fabric to create the “shields” that resembled a sanitary pad with wings. Elsewhere, rectangles of fabric were cut, which are folded and inserted into the shields.
The shields have a lining that keeps them from leaking. Snaps are added to hold them in place. The fabrics used are multicolored and are meant to be hand washed — a bar of soap is included in the kits — and hung out to dry.
Despite the serious message of the day, Julia and Carleigh kept their inaugural Bleedership conference fun.
They created games like “pin the pad on the panties” and supplied a table of pipe cleaners for people to make uterus tiaras. Two bright pink uterus-shaped pinatas were hung, and the adolescent girls in the group pulled strings to release a flow of pink and red Hershey’s kisses.
Looking around at the almost 70 attendees bustling between stations, Julia and Carleigh smiled with satisfaction.
“It’s probably the biggest accomplishment that I have done,” Julia said.