Period Equity Activist Sharanya Pogaku
Meet period equity activist Sharanya Pogaku!
What are some things you want our readers to know about you? When did you get involved within activism?
I’m currently a high school senior super passionate about entrepreneurship, tech, and supporting other girls! In the future, I want to run my own business empire and improve the lives of people all over the world. I’m really inspired by badass women who are breaking barriers and unapologetically loving themselves. I got started in activism when I founded Period Kit Packing Parties – since then, I haven’t looked back and I’ve really learned to form and voice my own opinions. The journey has allowed me to learn what I’m capable of and become more comfortable with myself. I also think that seeing how we can help other people is really empowering! I’m also the co-founder of Spill the Tea, a bubble tea company, and the Social Media Strategist of GirlzFTW, a global mentorship program that pairs girls with badass women leaders. In my free time, you can catch me reading classic novels, dancing my heart out, binge-watching Mindhunters on Netflix, or hanging out with my dog, Gucci.
Have you ever been invalidated by someone else for your work or your age?
I’ve been so lucky to have amazing and supportive adults in my life. While I’ve definitely had people doubt my abilities, I would say that most people have been able to look past my age and realize that I’m doing my best to leave my mark. I love surrounding myself with positive people who allow me to grow and progress! I also think it’s important to make sure you don’t invalidate yourself because of your age! If you’re super passionate about something and it keeps you up at night, then I think everyone has the ability to do something to tangibly affect the issue. Always believe in yourself and your capabilities, and if you don’t think you have the skills to do something, you can always learn them or work with a friend! Let your confidence translate into the work you’re doing so that nobody can feel that they can invalidate you and push yourself to do things you never thought you could.
How long have you had Period Kit Packing Parties in mind and when did you start the creation process?
I first heard about period poverty when I was surfing YouTube (probably at 3 am in the morning on a summer night lol) and stumbled across a video about the struggles of homeless women while they’re on their periods. It had never occurred to me that other menstruators might not have the same resources that I had and I was shocked that nobody really knew about this problem or was doing anything about it. I was even more surprised to learn that my mother, growing up as a child in rural India, didn’t even know what a pad or a tampon was until she was an older teenager. That’s when I started to really learn about the magnitude of the problem that women were facing all around the world. And I knew I had to do something about it, at least in my own community. I wish I could say that I automatically sprung to action and did something to make a difference right away. But for a long time, I was so angry about the issue and the circumstances that some women were put into that I didn’t even know where to start and found myself stuck in a state of inertia. One day, though, I finally decided to make that first phone call and send that first email. And as soon as I did that, I realized I was on to organizing my first Period Kit Packing Party. For a few months, I planned out our first event in New York City, with the help of Kali, an organic feminine hygiene product company. We organized drives, fundraised, and marketed the event and on the day of the party, we were able to make 250 period kits. And the coolest part of that night was that we got to personally deliver the kits to a local homeless shelter and we saw the direct impact we were making – a memory that I cherish. Since then, we haven’t looked back. Now, Period Kit Packing Parties is working with people from all around the world to help them host their own period parties. We know that we can make a difference in our community, but together we can all make differences in all of our communities! We guide people through the entire process and help them understand the logistics and tasks that they’ll need to complete and prioritize to make the process as easy as possible for everyone. Every menstruator should have the access to pads and tampons that they deserve, and we want to change the world – one tampon at a time.
Why do you believe there is a stigma surrounding menstruation and how do you want to tackle that through your work?
Menstruation has been a “taboo” topic since the beginning of civilization and people have been uncomfortable with it for centuries. It’s important to understand that it’s a private experience for everyone, but that every woman goes through it – it’s a normal process. I would say there are multiple ways to start to combat the stigma:
1. Talk about it! A lot. Periods are natural processes and the first thing we need to do is become comfortable with that. It’s ok to talk about it because every woman goes through them and there’s nothing to hide! This is probably the easiest way to start fighting thestigma and the more we talk, the more common these conversations become (even though there’s nothing uncommon about menstruating – over 800 million girls are on theirperiod on any given day!).
2. Stop hiding. It’s 2019. Do we really need to be hiding our pads and tampons in our sleeves all the time? Who cares if someone sees them? Challenge yourself to stop concealing them and see if it makes a difference in the way you think about your period!
3. Be aware. Period stigma can leave some girls stuck in a constant cycle of health issues (infections and TSS can be common), skipping school (millions of girls drop out of school after beginning their period), and unsatisfactory health education (some girls have never heard of menstruation before they got their first period). Do you really want to be someone contributing to that cycle? Take the lead in starting a conversation because the more people we have talking about periods, the more change that will occur. We need to empower girls to be okay with menstruating and know what that means.
4. Listen. If you’re a non-menstruator, realize that menstruation is natural and affects half of the population. Be understanding of menstruators and what they’re going through. You should be aware of the problems some menstruators may face and know about the process that creates all human life. If you don’t know about the process, google it or ask a friend. Educate yourself!
How does a “Period Kit Packing Party” run? What do these look like?
A Period Kit Packing Party is a super unique event where people come together to help others. There’s inspiration in the air, influential people in attendance, and everyone has one thing on mind – to fight period poverty. We have guests bring in product donations – including pads, tampons, soap, shampoos, chocolate, and face masks – and we all pack period kits together while meeting new people and personalizing the kit bags. Parties are usually in a room full of people bustling around to make sure every kit has enough of each product and everyone adding their own personal flavor to each one! After the kits are packed, we gather together with roundtable discussions on periods, period stigma, and gender equality. At some events we’ve hosted, we’ve even been able to walk to a local homeless shelter and personally deliver the kits ourselves! And, of course, we always try to include pizza.
What was the process of partnering with the menstrual organization Kali, and how does that connection affect Period Kit Packing?
I met Jonna, the CEO of Kali at the Girl Up Leadership Summit last year in Washington DC and she has honestly been the reason that this whole initiative started. Kali is an organic feminine care company and Jonna was so kind as to allow my friends and I to host a Period Party at their pop-up store last fall. It was our first party and we soon realized that we made a big difference – and since then we wanted to make more. Kali has encouraged us to continue what we started and supported us whenever we needed help. And be sure to check out their products – organic period products will never put anything toxic into your body and are a safe option for your menstrual cycle!
Do you have a long-term goal for Period Kit Packing? If so, what is it?
We’re looking to help 10,000 women by the end of 2021! And we’d love to work with anyone who’s interested in hosting a Period Party in their local community so please reach out to email@example.com if you’re interested in making a change! We’ll be able to guide you through the entire process.