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March 16, 2024 18 mins
"Period poverty" is a global problem that's felt right here in Massachusetts. The rising price of menstrual hygiene products can severely impact the ability of women and girls to get an education, go to work, or even socialize with their families and friends. Asian Women for Health, based in Boston, works to shed light on, and break, systemic barriers that contribute to the lack of representation for women in the AAPI community when it comes to healthcare. Naheed Esar, Executive Director of AWFH, and Ceylan Rowe, founder of Fihri, talk with Nichole about their "Period Palooza" event, where sustainable period kits will help empower Asian women who have survived domestic violence and abuse.
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Episode Transcript

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From WBZ News Radio in Boston.This is New England Weekend. Each week
we come together talk about all thetopics important to you and the place where
you live. As always, sohappy to be back with you again this
week. I'm Nicole Davis. Ifyou're a longtime listener of the show,
you might remember that last year wedid an episode on a term called period
poverty. If you're not familiar,it's essentially a silent struggle for people who

menstruate of all ages, from youngkids in school to people approaching menopausem beyond.
And this is not just something thathappens here in the United States,
but it's a global issue. Seemenstrual hygiene products can be really really expensive
despite so many people needing to usethem, and when women and girls can't
access these products, it can reallyaffect their ability to go to work,
to go to school, get aneducation, even get out there and socialize.

This is a topic periods and stuff. It's been kind of taboo in
society, and it's a topic thatAsian Women for Health in Boston has been
championing through their work. This nonprofitis working as well to shed light on
the major systemic barriers that really docontribute to the lack of representation for women
in the AAPI community. They talkabout how this impacts access to healthcare.
So much more there in the communitydoing the work. Let's jump in and

learn all about it. Nahida Saris the executive director of Asian Women for
Health. Jalen Rowe the founder ofFury Ladies. Thank you both for being
here. Nahid, please start usoff with a bit more about the work
you're doing in Asian Women for Healthand how this nonprofit came to be.
Yeah, Asian Women for Health isa nonprofit organization that has existed for over
a decade now with the aim andwith the mission to help advance Asian women

and underserve people's access to it.What about healthcare We do through education,
through research and through the presentation.One of our main programs is trained community
health workers so they can bridge betweentheir communities and health institutions. Our other
program is research initiatives. We area New England lead for all of us

research that's on a NIGHTGE funded researchwith the idea together over one million data
of diverse populations in the nation nationwide. We are also conducting a study on
barriers for Parkinson disease within agent populationin Massachusetts, and that too is nationwide.

These are our educational and research aspectson awareness and representation we have.
This year alone, we have eitherparticipated or led and organized about eighty events
in Massachusetts. Overall, we alsohave monthly lunch and learned workshops. And
that's what brought you here. Yes, yes, and we'll definitely touch on

that in a few minutes. ButI wanted to actually ask you quickly to
get a little bit deeper on this. We talk about health disparities around Boston,
around Massachusetts as a whole. Iwas really curious if you could expand
a bit on how Asian communities,South Asian communities, how these health disparities
impact you specifically. To begin withhealth disparities and Asian communities, Nicole Asian

community comprises over seven point eight percentof Massachusetts population and around the same population
in the US overall. Asians arethe fastest growing group in the US.
But despite that, there's very verylittle knowledge on Asian population. There's very

little research on Asian population, soit's actually quite difficult to find out the
exact health disparities from our interactions withAsian communities. The biggest barriers for health
with an Asian population is linguistic barrierand cultural barrier. Asians are also the

biggest population who speak a language otherthan English at home. It's about seventy
eight point percent. And in termsof cultural and structural barriers, I,
at least in my interactions with communitymembers, come across many especially mental health
or in this case, period issuesthat are looked upon differently. I give

you one small example. I wasat an event last Sunday and I asked
a woman in her sixties about herexperience with period, and she said,
it's not called period in my language. It's actually called illness and my language.
So it's starting from linguistic barriers,to cultural mis representations, to cultural

misunderstandings, to structural difference. I'vealso come across a highly distinguished, educated
community member who had to spend thousandsof dollars on insurance because she didn't know
US health insurance system. And that'swhere organizations like Asian Women for Health exist

and should exist. Our aim isto bridge that gap between communities and health
providers and health departments. Boston hassome of the best healthcare in the world,
and we are in an area thatis so highly educated. Are you
seeing any are you seeing any improvementin bridging the gaps of these disparities or

do you think we still have alot of work to do? Or is
it both? It is both,But if I have to go between seeing
improvements and a lot of work todo, I would definitely say we still
have a lot a lot of workto do. That's fair. We are
so extremely underrepresented knowledge on Asian population, on health disparities with an Asian population,

there is model minority associated with Asianpopulation. How many events or how
many gatherings you see you go toand you see an Asian representative. Let's
talk about the work you're doing,then, Jalen, I would like to
touch on your work really quickly.Tell me about your group, and then
tell us about how you got connectedwith Asian Women for Health. So theory,

our mission essentially is to end periodpoverty sustainably, and we do this
by packing sustainable period kits and thendistributing them locally and globally. So,
Nahiden and I have this fantastic contactnamed Eric, and he introduced us,
and so I'm really excited that we'regoing to be hosting a Period Polosa with

Asian Women for Health on March twentieth, and essentially, a period Polusa is
a period kit making event. Wehave these reusable pouches one hundred percent organic
con and reusable pouches. People writeinspirational messages and then we stuff them with
sustainable period products. And when wesay sustainable, I mean on average,

a period pad that isn't one hundredpercent organic, cunt or biodegradable will be
on the planet five hundred to eighthundred years one period pad, and a
menistrator will go through eleven thousand padsin their lifetime. So the ones we
use are small women owned businesses andthey're biodegradable or one hundred percent organic cut
and will decompose in less than oneyear. So we are supporting women every

aspect of our enterprise, from theproducts that we purchase to the women in
need of the period products. Andwe're excited to be donating to the Asian
Task Force against Domestic Violence. Now, he tell me about why an event
like this matters to your community.So we do have monthly lunch and learn

workshops, and it matters to usbecause lunch and learned workshops are safe space
for people for our communities to cometogether to talk about health issues that are
otherwise stigmatized, that are associated withshame, and to basically empower these women

to be an advocate of not onlytheir own health, but of their community's
health. Some of the workshops wehave hosted and some of the topics we
have discussed in those workshops include impostorsyndrome for botum depression, eating disorders,
healthy eating. And yet it's importantto talk about these things. It's important

to create that safe space for Asianwomen and underserved people to come together and
discuss it. You know, Jilantalk about the stigma when it comes to
menstruation, right, because so manypeople do it, and yet it still
feels like talking about it is kindof taboo. Why do we feel that's
still the case? Is? Andso what very works locally and globally.

So We've sent our kids to fourteendifferent countries, and I will tell you
that as somebody who loves to travel, loves to learn about other cultures,
it is the number one issue thatis completely universal, that talking about periods
is taboo. It's not light,we shouldn't do it. But I would
argue and na heat, and Iwould argue that we absolutely need to start

talking about periods. We need tonormalize them because there's five hundred million women
and girls each month that don't haveaccess. And when you don't have access
to period products, you don't haveaccess to going and getting your education,
you don't have access to going towork, you don't have access to financial
stability. So this issue period povertyimpacts absolutely impacts the global economy as well.

It impacts obviously the menstruator they're emotionalhealth and well being, but it
also impacts people who don't think thatit does. So this is an issue
that we need to continuously talk about. I don't think people realize if people
are not menstruating in the year twentytwenty four, when inflation is crazy high.
I went to the store the otherday just to go down that aisle.

A box of pads can be anywherefrom like four to ten dollars,
depending on what you need, ortampons or pantyliners or whatever it is you
need. And again, this isa biological process that none of us can
really control, nor should we wantto. It's not like people are buying
these just for the sake of buyingthem like these are things that women and

girls and others need to get by. I don't think people realize just how
much of a toll that can beon say younger people, maybe teens who
are living in foster care or somethinglike that, who just don't have access.
Absolutely, And I do want toadd an example to what Jalen said,
Nicole. I'm from Afghanistan, anddespite coming from a progressive family,

despite coming from a well educated family, I was never educated on periods.
The word period was never mentioned inour household. So I remember when I
had my first period, I thoughtI'm dying because blood is coming out of
my body. Scary, and Ifelt sick. I went to the bathroom.

I cried for hours, and mymom eventually came to the bathroom asked
me what's happening, and I toldher I have my period, and she
said, well, that means thatyou're no longer a young girl. You're
a woman now, so you're nolonger allowed to make any mistakes, and

that, of course added layers tomy stress. Unfortunately, I do want
to emphasize on Jalen's point on periodand all the stigma and shame attached to
period being a global, universal issue. When I joined Asian Woman for Health,

to give you another example, onone of the first months I in
our team meetings, I talked aboutperiod. It was the first day of
my period and I talked about it. I talked about the effect period has
to overall health issues, the effectperiod has on your stress level, on

hormone changes, the effect period periodhas on your workplace, on your workforce,
and how that should be discussed inworkplaces. And I remember one of
our colleagues who said, despite workingfor decades in corporate, period was never

discussed in their meetings. So talkingabout period, talking openly about period,
and talking with pride about period andpublic sphere is unfortunately a universal issue.
Just by having this conversation right now, we're kind of working to chip away
that stigma, so to speak.And through the work you're doing, of

course, with these monthly workshops,you're talking about these uncomfortable events, and
hopefully we get to a point wheretalking about basic human functions like menstruation is
not uncomfortable. So tell me alittle bit about the other workshops you have
planned coming up after this. Iknow that you were just mentioning how you
put on dozens of events each year. You are incredibly active. What do

you have coming down the pike.One of the things we have recurring is
we have this period Poverty workshop onMarch twentyth so for people please attend.
Yes, we have. The followingworkshop is on lgbt Q with diverse communities
and populations. We talk about LGBTQ. And in addition to that, we

have recurring training on community health workersand the idea is to then place them
or help with their job placement andhealth institutions. It's important nickel for periods,
but for overall for health equity.It's important to understand the value of

community health workers because community health workersare basically bridging between their communities and health
institutions. Community health workers help notonly amplify their communities voices to health institutions,
but also educate both communities and healthproviders on community health related issues.

On workshops, we do have abig worktop coming up on Parkinson disease.
It's actually a conference coming up onParkinson disease. And we have our celebrations
or annual celebrations gala that's coming upon me earliot okay this here so if

we would love for you guys toattend it, to sponsor, if you
want to be part of basically fightingfor health equity within diverse populations and Asian
populations. If you want to findout more about celebrations, please go ahead

and check celebrations dot org at AsianWoman for Help. Okay, Jaylon,
I wanted to hear a little bitmore about how people can connect with you
with the work that you're doing.Maybe to help get some hands in there
making these period kits, maybe payfor a few of them. What do
you need and how can people findyou? Thank you for asking. People
could go to we are Theory dotcom, fi h r I dot com.

They could host superiod Plus there's workplacenonprofit. It's an impactful team bonding
experience. We also do send humanitariankits overseas to hurricane survivors, earthquake survivors,
survivors of war and so they arewelcome to donate there. And we

also have a student sponsorship program.So one out of four students in the
United States do not have they missschool because they don't have access to period
products. So you could sponsor studentin need and we will find a person
in your local community, and wehave a relationship with nurses and we will
send monthly period products to that sustainableperiod product to that student. I really

like that actually, because you knowthen that your help. I think that
a lot of people sometimes are worriedabout, like if I'm donating, how
much of this is going to overhead, how much of this is going to
office work or whatever. But youare literally helping a young person in your
neighborhood continue their education. That's powerfulstuff. Yes, And you're also helping

the small own business that we're sentthe period products that we're settings, and
you're helping the planet. So it'slike a win win all around. I
love it. I love it.That's what we're all about. So,
Nahid, how can people you know, donate if they want to? How
can they volunteer? If somebody islistening and you know she happens to be
of Asian descent and she didn't knowthat you were around, how can she
connect with you? She doesn't haveto be of Agent descent to begin with.

Okay, anyone who's interesting and contributingto health health issues, to health
equity with an Asian population and underservedunderpresented populations. They can connect with us.
Our website is Asian Women for Health. We have a volunteer dot org

and they can our email address isthere. They can send us email.
They can donate to our period kidsthat YU if they go to asianwomenfo Health
dot org, Flash Create Poverty andall the donation goes to Asian Task Force
Against Domestic Violence organization. And asI mentioned earlier, they can either attend

or sponsor our celebrations AMPLIFOY. Thevoices raise awareness, talk about the issues
and the importance of health equity withindiverse populations and with an Asian population.
Ladies, thank you so much foryour time on the show. This is
really great and all the best toyou for your workshop. Thank you,

Thank you, Nicole. Have asafe and healthy Saint Patrick's Day weekend,
and please join me again next weekfor another edition of the show. I'm
Nicole Davis from WBZ News Radio oniHeartRadio.
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