Through an effort to end the stigma around periods, the Arab Student Association and Period collaborated to hold a panel where four people from various backgrounds were given the opportunity to talk about their encounters with reproductive health on Wednesday. About 30 students attended the event. ASA is currently holding a week-long program called Focus Week, where the goal is to talk about the stigmatized issues facing their communities.
Public Policy senior, Arwa Gayar, co-president of ASA, played a large role in putting the panel together.
“We thought that this was particularly important because menstrual health and reproductive health are seen as taboo in our culture, but it really affects a woman of color, particularly Arab refugees, and they are disproportionately marginalized, not just from their identity, but also their status as immigrants and refugees,” Gayar said. “So understanding their access to reproductive, menstrual health and is very important to look at it through the lens of those identities.”
The panel consisted of four women of varying backgrounds. Public Health graduate student Ashley Rapp discussed her point-of-view on menstrual and reproductive health of her family from Iraq and being the founder of Period.
“Primarily, at least for a lot of the people that came to America, one of our biggest issues is that even though people are coming through, they’re able to access things like food stamps, and different things like that,” Rapp said. “There’s a lot of difficulty that even some of my relatives are having with having access to, you know, things that are more than that. So that’s going to be things like menstrual products, but also different things to help their reproductive care.”
Period also played a large role in planning the panel. Period is an organization centered around service and education for women. Public Health junior Swathi Komarivelli also helped plan this event. The panel was a continuation of Period’s product drive where they collected over 15,000 products for people in Southeast Michigan.
“We just want to have this panel because we want to have an educational background behind the drive,” Komarivelli said. “Most people realize that they face disparate conditions, but going into specifics was the idea behind this.”
Each member on the panel was given the opportunity to talk about challenges they have faced in terms of menstrual and reproductive health. Public Health senior Umaima Abbasi is a green card holder and was able to tell her story as well.
“I do have some experiences like when you’re going around the healthcare system, so I actually was uninsured up until two weeks ago… But it’s kind of hard to navigate around a system that wasn’t initially created for you to be here,” Abbasi said. “So three weeks ago, I got a really terrible bacterial infection and I didn’t know how to go about it, like I didn’t know where I can find care, and also culturally competent care.”
LSA senior Tala Al-Saghir, president of Students Organize for Syria, was another member of the panel. Al-Saghir is currently applying to medical school and was able to provide more of a medically-based perspective on the importance of menstrual and reproductive care.
“For a lot of refugees, the primary needs, like the emergency needs are shelter, water, food and education for their children,” Al-Saghir said. “So you see that reproductive health and a lot of health issues overall just kind of get pushed to the side.”
LSA senior Ayah Kutmah talked about the importance of normalizing some of these tough yet important topics.
“Breaking that cultural stigma is very hard, but it can definitely start with having those uncomfortable conversations, especially within communities that you identify with,” Kutmah said.