very woman has that shared experience of shame — getting a period when you weren’t expecting it. You either went home or had to ask a random person for a tampon.
You were mortified.
Hockaday alumni Emmy Hancock asks: “Why is there still stigma?”
After reading an article about “period equity”, Hancock decided either women don’t talk about menstruation because of the taboo or because they feel alienated by the aggressive marketing of some advocacy groups.
“The more I found out, it just didn’t make sense,” she says.
Hancock recently launched Oluna, a Dallas-based company that manufactures and markets pants to address menstrual equity. The company aims to fund menstrual care for homeless women, increase awareness about menstrual equity, and improve education and government policy.
The brightly branded Oluna offers a one-for-one program. Each purchase of the $69 pants also funds one year of menstrual care.
“I thought having a fun brand would be the perfect way to infuse a lighter notion to start talking about how our inability to discuss the situation is hindering our ability to fix the problems around it,” she says.
According to Hancock, the lack of access for menstrual care and education reflects women’s healthcare overall.
“When men walk into the bathroom, they have everything they need to be clean and hygienic. When women walk into the bathroom, they don’t have everything they need, even in state-run places like prisons and schools,” Hancock says.
Regulating the quality of tampons is another issue within the fight for menstrual equity. Three corporate brands are behind much of the tampon research and menstrual education messaging.
The Robin Danielson Hygiene Product Safety Act, named after a woman who died in 1998 from toxic shock syndrome, has been brought to Congress for consideration 10 times during the past 20 years. The proposed legislation would require the National Institutes of Health to independently test feminine hygiene products and allow the Food and Drug Administration to mandate tampon ingredients be listed on packaging boxes.
The legislation has yet to be enacted into law.
Currently, the FDA lists tampons as medical devices and “encourages” brands to list ingredients but does not require the listing. New York recently passed the Menstrual Products Right to Know Act, which achieved that goal in 2019. Another win for advocacy groups is that tampon sizes have been standardized across brands after research showed that larger tampons are more likely to produce bacteria that causes staph infections.
“I think by having a more open discourse around periods in general, people will start realizing these are actually problems that aren’t that difficult to solve,” Hancock says.
Homeless women are disproportionally affected by menstrual equity, so Hancock launched partnerships with 10 Dallas homeless shelters to distribute menstrual supplies.
“Women are using the dirty rags they’re finding in the street, or they can’t go to their job interview because they don’t have access to a laundry machine,” she says. “So how can they be respected if they don’t have access to that?
“Once you phrase it like that, there’s no argument.”