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Making a real difference: The Ma‘i Movement celebrated its 4th annual Malama Your Ma‘i campaign in May

LIHU‘E — Menstruation is a natural involuntary bodily process experienced by over half the population in Hawai‘i, or more than 701,000 individuals.

These numbers are according to a Hawai‘i Department of Human Services (HDHS) report that partnered with Ma‘i Movement Hawai‘i in 2021 to better understand period poverty across the Hawaiian Island chain.

In June 2020, then-Governor David Ige signed Senate Bill 2821 into law requiring the Hawai‘i State Department of Education to provide menstrual products to all students, free of charge, on all public school campuses, including public charter schools, as part of $2 million allocated for the fiscal year.

This year, the Ma‘i Movement celebrated its 4th annual Malama Your Maʻi campaign, observed in May in recognition of Period Poverty Awareness Week, which ran from May 20 to May 28, to further raise awareness and highlight the challenges faced by people experiencing period poverty and provide solutions that ensure equitable access to menstrual products.

On Kaua‘i, Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School teacher Sarah Kern volunteers and has witnessed firsthand the need for the products. She leads this initiative by coordinating with public schools in the County of Kaua‘i and distributing Ma‘i Care Kits to partnered organizations.

She also acts as a base to receive products from O‘ahu for distribution.

“As I saw the need in my classroom I knew I wanted to get involved because it’s so important for Kaua‘i and the whole state. No one should have to choose between putting food on the table or buying sanitary products to take care of their hygiene,” Kern said.

“We know these products are expensive and taxed, and it’s a biological need that menstruators have; it is not just something we can decide not to do and if you can’t afford to buy them we know people have resorted to using leaves, socks, toilet paper and that is dehumanizing and it shouldn’t be that way.

“The successful Ma‘i progress that has happened assures menstruators have access even during the summer and events like these make it possible for others as well, I just think Ma‘i Movement has done such an excellent job of connecting different community partners and getting these products to the people who need it and de-stigmatize the conversation and not make it taboo to talk about our periods.”

Kern hosted her fifth kit-making event at her home in Lihu‘e on Tuesday, May 28. People in attendance included volunteers from DEJAVU Surf Store, volunteers with Kaua‘i’s Women’s Health and community volunteers. The kits that were set up on May 28 will be distributed to various organizations on the Garden Island, such as Malama Pono Health Services, Kaua‘i Community College (Hale Malama) and Hawai‘i Foodbank Kaua‘i to distribute during their food drives.

According to the law, access to these products can be found in all school bathrooms. Over the past two years, the Ma‘i Movement has collaborated with or donated directly to various entities in the County of Kaua‘i, including Kaua‘i Community College, the Fifth District Courthouse and county building.

Free period products can also be found at the Kapa‘a BJB park, making it the county’s first public park to offer these services thanks to the efforts of Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami. In the 2024 legislative session, they advocated for and secured $400,000 from the Department of Accounting and General Services to provide free period products in state buildings managed by their department.

“The message I have is to remind the public that not all menstruators are female or identify as female, there are menstruators who might need to use a male bathroom for various reasons. For example, if a father had a daughter and she needed assistance, it would be helpful for fathers to help their daughters while on their periods,” Kern said.

“It doesn’t hurt anyone to place dispensers in a male-female or gender-neutral bathroom. We shouldn’t be offended over urinals or diaper changing stations, just because you personally don’t need it, that doesn’t mean others don’t need them. So, let’s be open-minded and help provide these services for those who need them.”

The time and effort Ma‘i volunteers put in will continue to ensure that the County of Kaua‘i has enough inventory to distribute period products and continue to provide support to the Ma‘i Movement campaign.

“As a locally founded, Native Hawaiian and female-run nonprofit, Ma‘i Movement Hawai‘i is deeply committed to addressing period poverty and promoting menstrual equity in our state and especially the Garden Isle. We are incredibly proud of the success we have achieved through our annual Malama Your Maʻi campaign and journey to end period poverty in Kauaʻi and the state,” said Ma‘i Movement Hawai‘i co-founder Nikki-Ann Yee.

“When we reflect on the past three and a half years, this success is truly a testament to the power of community collaboration and the unwavering support and aloha from local leaders, volunteers, and donors. We are inspired by the systemic changes we have brought about, from implementing the first Sustainable Ma‘i program in Hawai‘i to ensuring free-period products in schools, county parks, libraries, and courthouses.

“These accomplishments highlight our collective ability to drive meaningful change and address critical issues of menstrual equity. It is heartening to see how our combined efforts have resulted in practical solutions that make a real difference in people’s lives. We are filled with gratitude and remain motivated to continue this important work.”

Individuals interested in volunteering or for further information regarding access to the products are encouraged to visit maimovement.org. For a deeper understanding of period poverty in Hawai‘i, visit the Hawai‘i Department of Human Services website at humanservices.hawaii.gov.
Source: The Garden Island

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