Day in the Life of a Menstrual Activist: Leimary Llopez
Updated: Oct 18, 2020
Interviewed by Chioma Ugochukwu
What are your pronouns?
Why did you get involved in menstrual equity work and what does this work mean to you?
I began because I got an internship with the YWCA in New Bedford, and one of the duties that she had me do was to start the menstrual access [project]. So I began doing the surveys and asking people what’s going on with menstrual access...collecting surveys and giving products to the community to see how the need was. I also went to Boston to legislate, support, and advocate for the I AM Bill, and that’s how I started.
So part of your job was to stock menstrual products?
I began doing the internship and one of [my requirements] was to collect [them]…. so we did donation drives and we started to collect menstrual products. As we began to collect the menstrual products, I [went] to schools, parks, and food pantries, and I [gave] people menstrual products and they filled out the surveys for me.
So that’s how I started to do it. And then I went to Boston and I legislated for it and I also gave my own testimony about how the menstrual access affected me and my life.
On a typical day, what does your work look like?
So to back up, when the COVID [situation] began, what we came up with is [that] I do the census, so we had a phone that I use for work [and] I began to use that phone for people to be able to call me if they need menstrual products, and I would deliver or they could pick up. So I began to get calls from people because we had flyers that we made and people could call us. We started to deliver food so we put [the flyers] in the bags and started to give flyers to people in our doctor’s office and other organizations.
[People] would call me and I would set up a date and time to either meet with them or they could go in and I could give them hygiene products. Every other week. I would do updates with them to see if they needed more, if they were running out, if they needed something different, if they wanted tampons, pads, and we also had the cups.
We also started doing the shelters, so every month I pick a shelter to go to and I give them thirty bags for them to be able to distribute.
It seems to me you have both the in-person work but you also do a lot of delegation to other people.
I also pack the bags. What we do is we have brown bags that we ordered. So [with] the brown bags, you can’t see anything—we put [the products] in the bag so it’s discreet. The person could give it to them and nobody has to know what’s in the bag.
Why do you want the I AM Bill to pass?
The reason I want the I AM Bill is because I feel it’s a necessity. It’s part of a woman’s life. It’s something we have to deal with every single month. And seeing the surveys, you can see how people were choosing—they had to choose whether they pay their rent, whether they can eat, or whether they have money for gas in their car. And we shouldn’t have to choose which one we can have.
I think we should live in a world [where] we’re able to have all that, and it’s part of life. It’s something that we need.
Plus it’s not affordable, so people struggle. You can’t get the cheapest one because people get UTIs. So this is something that we need, and we need the right product.
How can people who aren’t necessarily connected with Mass NOW or other organizations help?
To help, I think they need to donate. We talked about gift cards. Amazon, if you donate Amazon gift cards, we can just order [products], and we’re able to help [people in need]. They can also donate cash. So it depends if they can do gift cards or cash. I know people who throw parties. People will throw a party and [they’ll ask], “If you come to our party, can you just bring a bag of tampons or pads to the party?” It adds up and we get more [products]. We also had somebody who worked at a hair salon, so whenever somebody came, they would ask “The next time you come, can you bring [products]?”
So it’s ways of being creative. For us, [with] just one pad, even one person, we can help one family.
Have you ever experienced racism or microaggressions in this space or barriers in general as an activist in the menstrual justice space?
When I started to do this, I always thought about places to go. I just graduated from BCC, so I thought, why can’t I do [this project] at BCC because a lot of us need [products] there? A lot of people are getting financial aid, and we cannot afford to pay for our school, so how are we supposed to pay for our pads? So I spoke to somebody in the library that worked there, and she knew about the I AM bill being passed [sic] so she already knew about the things that we were doing. So I had spoken to her about if she could leave a box there so I could bring some pads there and people could pick [products] up there. Just like people pick up free books, they could pick up free pads. We thought that was an idea for us to reach them if they can also do the surveys.
Well, that wasn’t the case. When I went to bring [the box], somebody stopped me and told me I wasn’t allowed to do this. So then I had to write a letter of apology stating that I didn’t want to do something that I wasn’t required to do. I just wanted to help, and I didn’t know the way of doing it, and the way I did it was not the right way. So I had to speak to somebody else, somebody higher. I ended up speaking to the person who does the food bank. So he allowed me to do it while we were at the food bank.
But I understand that the issue of why I couldn’t do it there is because on each floor, they have bathrooms and they have [menstrual products] that you have to pay for. You have to pay, and you have to put coins in there, and then you get your tampons or pads. So I felt like they weren’t allowing me to give free ones because they wanted the students to have to get the ones that are paid for. I felt like when that happened, I understood what they were saying, but I also was upset. That’s why I [was] like, I have to find another way to get this school because I felt like it was stopping us from the purpose, you know what I mean?
And I’m happy that I did, it worked out, and I ended up talking to the press and I got a different way of doing it. But to me, I felt like it was an issue.
Yes, I do understand that sometimes, it’s not even like they don’t have the resources, it’s that the institution itself is unwilling to provide the products for free or help in a way that doesn’t monetarily benefit them. So I definitely see how frustrating that can be.
And the food drive did actually help, so I was going there every single month, and I was getting a lot of people and it really helped. But that was always in the back of my mind.
What can allies and non-BIPOC people do to uplift marginalized voices in the menstrual justice space?
I learned that everybody has a voice, especially with menstrual access. This is something that affects [everyone despite their] nationality.
It doesn’t matter where we come from, who we are, the color of our skin. It doesn’t matter whether we have money or not. We all go through it.
I learned during this journey that even single fathers [deal with menstrual access], and we don’t think about that. We always think about the woman. I had a lot of fathers, even, that I went up to at parks and [told], “Listen, we’re doing this survey; I see you have daughters, what’s your concern?” A lot of the families told me that they were single fathers, [and] that they didn’t 1) know how to deal with menstrual access because they were men and didn’t have a female to talk about it [with] and 2) they were the head of [their] household but they didn’t remember every month that they had to buy menstrual [products] because they were guys. So they were going through their own things. They said that [with] passing the bill, the kids would have [the products] in school and sometimes they could bring [them] home. And it would be easier access for the men to remember that “my daughter needs this” rather than her calling him that she needs it today.
What I also noticed were grandparents. A lot of the surveys I did, I would go up to the grandparents, because they take care of the kids because the parents are working. I spoke to a lot of them that had a lot of people living in one house, and a grandmother said that she would rather see her daughter and her grandkids get menstrual access before she did because she wanted them to have what they had.
So it’s a cycle that impacts the whole family. And we don’t think about that because...I’m a mom, so I think about me and my daughter. But my mom thinks about everyone, so you forget about the person who’s the head because they don’t think about themselves.
Is there anything else you think is a very overlooked part of menstrual equity work?
I think what they don’t realize is that it’s needed every single day. So we’re asking for something to be passed that is needed all day long, every day.
It’s not something that we’re asking because we don’t want to pay for it. We’re asking because it’s needed; it’s something that is essential. It’s something that we need to have. Just like people say we make sure we have toilet paper, we make sure we have all that.
With the homeless shelters, you always send them things for their hair, [but] you never think about hygiene products. With the flyer I have here, it says that menstrual products are least donated at homeless shelters. And that’s kind of weird because they should have that. They’re homeless...and they’re worried about what they’re going to do.
Even in the jails, you have to pay for menstrual access. So if somebody’s getting money and you’re not, you won’t get it that month. And the person that does get money, sometimes she gets more than she has to so she can have enough. It’s not accounted [for] so that everyone gets the equal amount. It’s whoever comes [first] and whoever has it. We don’t think about that.
It’s something for your health, I think that’s also important to say because we don’t want to feel dirty, and we feel dirty when we have our periods. We don’t feel as clean as we do the rest of the month. So I feel like if you don’t have the proper necessities, it doesn’t help your body so you can’t be focused when you’re at work, you can’t be focused when you’re at school. You’re not focused because you feel like you’re dirty. I feel like that’s stopping us from giving our best, and people don’t see that.
What would be the ideal end goal for menstrual equity activism? What is your utopian reality?
End period poverty.
Are there any misconceptions you’d like to address in terms of menstrual activism, activism in general, or being a person of color and a menstrual activist?
I think we need to realize that, when we think about menstrual access, it’s not just about a woman or a girl. It’s about a family. It affects a father, it affects a grandparent, it affects everybody in the house because if nobody in the house can afford it, then it becomes everybody’s issue. I feel like that’s something that’s not thought about. It should be something that is already thought about as we’re growing up. Like [asking] “how are we going to be able to afford this?” as we’re growing up. As we age, we should already have that word “comfortable”, [meaning] kids can go to school and know that they’re going to have [menstrual products] like they know they’re going to have a meal.