Every year, Day of the Girl represents more than just a date on your calendar, it’s an international movement dedicated to fighting and increasing awareness for gender inequality on a global scale. Founded in 2011 by the United Nations, the Day of the Girl brings together youth advocacy groups across the world to highlight, discuss, and take action to advance rights and opportunities for girls everywhere. This year, join Brooklyn’s Smile on Me as they participate in their own way through celebration, empowerment, and education.
By now you’ve probably heard of the “pink tax,” the added cost to products and services intended for the female consumer despite the fact they are seemingly identical to male products. Who knew it cost so much to dye a disposable razor pink? I’ll also assume you’re aware of the “luxury” tax, aka: the sales tax attached to feminine hygiene products such as tampons and pads. (Let’s be clear, there is not a woman in the world — or even my boyfriend four days out of the month — that would ever call having a period a luxury.)
But what happens if you can’t afford these “luxuries?”
What happens if the choice comes down to tampons or toilet paper, panty liners or lunch? What happens if you’re 13 and may not even be given a choice?
These questions occurred to Dre Thomas, founder of Smile On Me, an organization dedicated to the support of girls. Support seen not only in its guidance, but also in the physical distribution of feminine hygiene products. Smile on Me believes “Giving girls their own hygiene products significantly changes their future. Early education of hygiene and puberty benefits not only the individual girl, but her home, her community, and ultimately, the world.”
Topics such as puberty, menstruation, and feminine hygiene products are frequently overlooked, if not taken for granted. All too often, there is an assumption in our society; you’re a girl — you should know.
Youth advocates, including Thomas, understand that it is not just the lack of information that is the problem, but also the wrong information. As a child of the 90’s I grew up in the digital age. I can say, with equal amounts of pride and embarrassment, that at age 13 I had a Myspace, a Xenga, and was an avid asker of Jeeves. Today, I don’t know where I would even begin. Between every new app and social platform as well as the infinite reach of the Internet, today’s adolescents are surrounded, if not completely immersed, by a digital environment. And yes, for the most part this is great, however, this environment also lends itself to the exposure of inaccurate information and miseducation.
In an effort to prove this, I did a cursory search on Youtube — a search I can imagine a young woman might make after the shock of her first “luxury”… ahem, period. I typed “tips for first period” into my search bar and the results were… let’s just say, variable. As expected, a huge amount of comedy and satire videos showed up as well as young Youtube stars with their own tips and “how-to” videos. I clicked on one of the most watched videos, a young Youtuber with over three million views. I spent the next six minutes watching a young woman, surrounded by frozen pillows, Hello Kitty stuffed animals, and what can only be described as ‘glitter’ explain “what to do when you get your first period!” All judgement aside, with over three million views I expected there to be a presentation of concrete information. Unfortunately, our host spent more time discussing her subscribers than facts. After watching a few more videos I was increasingly discouraged, I had to call it quits when one host referred to parts of the female anatomy as “your cookie.”
This is exactly why organizations like Smile on Me are so very important. Not only do they provide girls with the right information and tools, but they provide a safe and comfortable environment in which to learn and grow. According to Thomas, “supplying feminine hygiene products is only step one. The ultimate goal is to provide girls with the why and the how.”
Thomas and Smile On Me offer girls a forum to meet, learn, and even just hang out. A safe space where girls are valued, celebrated, and encouraged to grow while they become the women they’re meant to be. Indeed, their mission statement is one for the books, “Our commitment is to empower girls, to disrupt the status quo, impact the world, and open the door wider for the next generation of leaders.” Boom.
Along with products, Smile on Me also produces summits. Think of these as mini conferences or meetups, each one dedicated to a specific theme in which to enrich and empower. These summits include panel discussions and open forums where girls can learn more, talk to mentors, and share their own stories. Recently, Smile on Me hosted a summit for mental health where they learned tools for dealing with stress such as meditation and tips for overall self-esteem.
Thomas describes one of her favorite moments with Smile on Me: “Last spring, I gathered a few girls I used to mentor to discuss the first-ever Smile On Me Summit. I asked them to share what they’d like to see and what would make the experience memorable. I was expecting them to say things like snacks, cool swag, dancing, etc. But one of the girls (who was 12) said that she wants to discover something new about herself, which I thought was great!”
This is why Thomas does what she does — this is what Smile on Me is really all about.
So, how can you get involved? Smile on Me is hosting a donation drive on Saturday, October 6th as well as an upcoming summit celebrating the International Day of the Girl on Sunday, October 14th. Information for both events is posted below.
Not in New York? Smile on Me needs your donations — specifically products like pads, bar soap, deodorant, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, mouthwash, and hand sanitizer. Visit smileonme.org to stay up to date with all of their events or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn even more!
Donation Drive: Saturday, October 6, 7pm, Two Saints Bar, 753 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn
Day of the Girl: Sunday, October 14, 11-2pm, Jolie Studio, 1131 Nostrand Ave, Brooklyn