By Hadia Chaudhry
Feminine products are essentials for women across the globe. However, in California and the United States as a whole, the luxury tax on feminine hygiene products has made those items unaffordable to women who are below the poverty line or homeless. Taxing feminine products as a luxury is a disservice to women in need. In order to help these women, Granada Hills Charter High School (GHC) seniors Constance Chiang and Melissa Cerna have been working on developing an environmentally friendly and affordable pad.
Women not only in America, but across the globe have limited access to hygiene projects due to financial circumstances. Chiang and Cerna thus began a community service group called Empowered Period to help women in need. Their mission statement is to provide hygiene products for the 14,000 women who live under the poverty line in the San Fernando Valley.
They aim to provide these women with affordable and environmentally friendly sanitary napkins, along with other feminine hygiene products such as towels and soap so that adequate sanitation and health needs are fulfilled.
“We want to break the taboo about menstruation so women can speak freely about their periods without fear or embarrassment,” Chiang said.
The project has grown from its initial starting point. The group received the Archer Research Grant to prototype a menstrual pad and earlier this year, they were awarded the Pollination Project Grant to host women empowerment workshops. However, the expansion came after struggling with a shortage in the amount of people involved, as only Chiang and Cerna were present during the beginning stages.
“There were so many great ideas we wanted to pursue, but we were limited in our supplies and man power,” Chiang said.
In addition to the limited number of people involved, Cerna and Chiang faced great difficulty balancing the demands of the project with their academic and personal life.
“It’s difficult to run an entire research project on your own without much guidance from others. But it was important for us to persevere through challenges, especially when you are trying to accomplish something very meaningful,” Cerna said.
The weight of the project lessened once they were able to reach out community leaders such as professors from California State University, Northridge (CSUN), directors of homeless shelters and DV shelters for extra support and extending the reach of their project. The extra support also meant they could begin developing a prototype and putting their grant money to good use.
After conducting research for their project under the guidance of biochemistry professor Karin Crowhurst at CSUN , Chiang and Cerna developed a prototype using only eco-friendly materials and presented it at the 2018 STEM Symposium, which is an annual event in which students K-12 are able to showcase their inventions.
Chiang and Cerna have changed the expectations for feminine hygiene products. Their work has shown that these products are necessary for women and can be affordable. Presently, Cerna is no longer involved with the project, however Chiang hopes to continue work on the prototype and empower women through her workshops.
The future of the biodegradable pads is economical. If more researchers take the opportunity to work on developing affordable and biodegradable pads, the quality of hygiene products available to women in need would be greatly improved. Pads are essentials and it is time for science to bring these essentials to those who cannot afford them.