Breaking the Cycle: How Teen Twin Sisters Are Fighting to #EndPeriodPoverty

teen sisters on a blue background

Ian Wagreich

“This is a systemic issue and it requires systemic change.”

There’s a public health crisis among young girls in the U.S. that’s gone ignored for far too long: 1 in 5 have missed school due to a lack of access to period products, according to Always, global menstrual care leader. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as “period poverty,” and unfortunately, it’s a major problem in America. But luckily, two 15-year-old sisters are already battling to change that.

Twins Brooke and Breanna Bennett aren’t your average teens. When we first caught up with them two years ago, they were pushing for the passage of Alabama’s period poverty bill — HB 50 — which Governor Kay Ivey signed into law last year. The program created a $200,000 annual grant program for Title I, low-income schools to provide free period products to students in grades 5 to 12. Of course, that was no small feat — Alabama is only the seventh state in the nation to have such a mandate. Both girls were named “Period Heroes” by Always for their advocacy work, which included testifying before state legislatures about the importance of the bill. “Getting that passed, on a state level, has been complicated, but it taught me a lot,” Brooke told Katie Couric Media. “It’s been a humbling experience for sure.” 

If that triumph wasn’t impressive enough, the sisters are also the founders of the nonprofit Women in Training, Inc. The Montgomery, AL-based youth empowerment program provides period products to underserved and homeless girls, so struggling families don’t have to choose between food and pads. On top of providing free period products as well as dental and hygiene supplies on a monthly basis, the group offers vital education about menstruation and reproductive health, something that isn’t necessarily taught to young girls.

“Period poverty is definitely not talked about enough,” Brooke tells Katie Couric Media. “The first of our friends to get her period didn’t know anything about it, like how often you should change your pad. So she’d keep it on for many hours — sometimes the whole day.”

Now that the sisters have a state law under their belt, they’re taking the fight all the way to Washington. In honor of Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28th, the duo will accompany New York congresswoman Grace Meng to advocate for her bill, the Menstrual Equity for All Act, which would expand access to free period products in federal buildings and schools so no one would have to miss out because of their period. “Period poverty is a systemic issue and it requires systemic change,” says Breanna. 

Brooke and Breanna Bennett and Congresswoman Grace Meng (Photo: Ian Wagreich)

To put things into perspective, the average person who menstruates has about 450 periods in their lifetime, and spends an average of $20 on menstrual products per cycle. While that might not seem like much, this expense balloons to an estimated $9,000 over a lifetime, according to estimates from the National Organization of Women. And more than two dozen states tax menstrual products as luxuries instead of medical necessities, adding to this cost. Women who can’t afford these products are sometimes forced to make their own out of toilet paper or rags, increasing their chances of contracting various health conditions, like toxic shock syndrome and urinary tract infections.

The lack of access to period products is more ubiquitous than you might think: A study from research journal the Obstetrics and Gynecology revealed that two-thirds of low-income women in the U.S. couldn’t afford menstrual products at some point during a given year, and roughly 50 percent said they’d had to choose between buying food or period products. On a global level, the international nonprofit, Days for Girls, found that 1 in 4 women experience period poverty.  

But by raising awareness of this crisis, Brooke and Breanna hope the Menstrual Equity for All Act will ultimately pass — and they’re planning to expand their activism around the world.

“Period poverty is a global issue,” says Breanna, “so it’s important for us to not only offer women hope right here in Alabama, but to help end period poverty across the world.”

Wondering how you can get involved? Always encourages everyone to contact their officials here and ask them to show their support for the Menstrual Equity for All Act. The brand has long been committed to the cause: Since the launch of Always’ #EndPeriodPoverty program in 2018, Always has donated more than 235 million period products to those in need around the world, including more than 75 million in the U.S. in partnership with Feeding America® and other organizations.