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Meet Shadi Nikshomar (She/Her)

February 27, 2024 . jessie

What I have discovered is that 27% of people who menstruate in amsterdam over the last year have experienced period poverty. But even a bigger number, 63% of all people who menstruate, have been struggling accessing period products.

Shadi Nikshomar is a breath of fresh air; an activist, politician and board member of The Neighborhood Feminists. Since she was a teenager, she has been volunteering and getting involved in politics in Almere. She is now a city councillor of the GroenLinks party, focusing on intersectional feminism and fighting against (gender-based) matters like period poverty. Shadi combats period poverty through politics, but also through practical activism with the Neighborhood Feminists. Period poverty is defined as not being able to afford the products you need for a safe and hygienic period. According to research conducted by the Neighborhood Feminists in 2022, 27% of people in Amsterdam who menstruate couldn’t afford period products. Shadi believes that having access to the products you need for a safe period should be a human right. No one should have to choose between food and the care that their body needs. 

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word period?  

I think about, to be frank, blood. I think about shame. Something I have to keep quiet about, not talk about, not let anyone know about. It can also be empowering in a way. It’s something very natural that our body does. I’s very powerful how the hormone cycle works. It’s one of the wonders of the body. 

Do you remember your first period?

I do – it was so bad. It hadn’t really been discussed properly in school. We were told that we would get a period but it didn’t include details about what it would be like. It was an abstract kind of thing. I didn’t have ‘the talk’ with my parents so when I got my period I thought I was going to die! I was so afraid! It was actually kind of traumatic. I didn’t know what was happening but then I went to my mum. She told me that it was alright and I was just growing up. So overall it was a shock, but I learned from it.  

How has your attitude towards menstruation changed as you’ve gotten older? 

Well, now periods are such a big part of my life and work. The shame that I initially felt about my period is now gone. Now when I talk about periods I feel a lot of passion, sometimes also anger because of the lack of research and funding. When I became aware of these gender inequalities, I decided to harness this energy and passion into action. I started working to fight against period poverty through practical activism and policy making. I am a board member of the Neighborhood Feminists, who provide free products to those in need through public menstruation stations. We also help to educate and conduct research on period poverty. In Almere, I work as a city councillor trying to get policies in place to help end period poverty. The stigma around periods can keep people from asking for the things they need. Period poverty carries a double stigma. 

What is period poverty? 

Period poverty is a form of poverty where people who menstruate can’t afford, or can’t access, the products they need for a safe and hygienic period. Many people who suffer from period poverty are forced to use unsafe alternatives like newspaper or toilet paper. To save money, some use period products longer than is hygienic and safe. It’s also goes beyond the products. Some people will buy the products but will have to sacrifice other things like food or medicine. Think about the other things that you might need to help you cope with your period. There is also the societal stigma towards menstruating bodies. People are being sidelined from society because of their periods. Many are forced to stay home from school or work because of it. There is a lack of education about menstrual health, to the point where some people don’t understand how to manage their menstrual health, how to keep track of it and how to deal with the side effects of menstruating. All of these factors together create period poverty. If we had more education, understanding, and support we would be one step closer to ending period poverty. 

Can you explain why period poverty is a political issue? 

Period poverty is a huge problem. What’s frustrating is that we could solve it. The municipalities choose to not allocate money for this. When we talk about period poverty it’s a double taboo. In politics people don’t want to talk about periods or poverty. When we label it as a ‘women’s issue’ it makes it easier for governments to ignore. In policy making there is a desire for everything to be universal and simple. Menstruating bodies don’t fit into that. There is not enough representation of people who menstruate in politics, who might understand and fight for menstrual health. Period poverty is a symptom of a wider society which is broken. If we are not taking care of half of our people, then what does that say about our government? The thing with period poverty it that it’s not just an issue of poverty, is an issue of public health, an issue of participation and of emancipation. We cannot close the gender gap, and have gender equality, without addressing period poverty. 

What are the biggest challenges you face in addressing period poverty? 

A big obstacle is getting people who don’t menstruate to care. We need to get everyone to understand why period poverty is part of a societal issue, and not just a ‘women’s issue’. I often have to explain about menstruation itself and then go into how it is impacted by poverty. We need more research to be done so that we can back up what we’re saying and explain it better to people in policy making. Research is the foundation, and we need those hard numbers to activate people. For example, we found that in Amsterdam 27% of people who menstruate couldn’t afford period products, but that an even more shocking number – 63% – said that they were managing but struggling. That’s a number that we should all be concerned about. The research being done by the Neighborhood Feminists is so important and acts of the backbone of the argument that period poverty is a serious issue.  

How can we help to fight against period poverty? 

Anyone can help. Locally, can take practical steps like providing accessible period products to those in need. The Neighborhood Feminists launched their menstruation station project in 2021 and now have product access points across Amsterdam. We rely completely on donations and volunteers, so if you’re interested in helping out then please visit our website. We need products and hands to help restock and set up menstruation stations. On a national scale the process is much slower and needs funding. We need to recognise period poverty as the health issue that it is, and treat is with the seriousness it deserves. We need more representation within government to help support these causes. There needs to be more budget allocated to relieving poverty and period poverty. You can help by writing to your local and national government (Gemeente and Overheid).  

Join Shadi in the fight against period poverty. You can help right now by donating products, money or your time. Visit https://www.neighborhoodfeminists.com/ to find out more.  

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