Sophia Bush on How Period Poverty Leads to Gender Inequality (Exclusive)
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"The fact that nearly one in five girls in the United States is missing school because of her period feels utterly unacceptable to me," the actress tells TooFab.

Sophia Bush is hoping to tackle gender inequality in the United States by starting at the grassroots level.

In order to be hired, promoted, voted into office or receive equal pay, women need access to the same educational opportunities that men receive, and that can't happen if one in five girls in the U.S. has to miss school due to lack of period products.

Bush wants to change that, so she's teamed up with Always to help #EndPeriodPoverty.

"The fact that nearly one in five girls in the United States is missing school because of her period feels utterly unacceptable to me," the actress told TooFab in a recent interview. "We're talking about an issue -- which isn't an issue, it's a natural function of a healthy body -- that affects 51 percent of the population on the planet, yet we treat it as though it's some sort of taboo. We act like we shouldn't be talking about it. And because we don't talk about it, we don't treat caring for women's bodies as health care."

"Schools should be supported and funded to make sure that they have the products that menstruating kids need," she continued. "The fact that we don't consider period protection to be part of school supplies is mind-boggling to me. What is a young person to do when surprised by their period? What is a young person to do when they don't have access to products at home? Are they supposed to miss school? That feels wrong to me. It just seems really illogical to me, so starting the conversation seemed like a great first step."

1003_Sophia_Bush_InsetMichael Simon

Bush told us she's been working in the education space for nearly a decade, but it wasn't until she teamed up with former First Lady Michelle Obama on her Let Girls Learn initiative that she started digging through U.S. data, where she discovered that "hindrances to girls either staying in school or continuing secondary school" was a major problem. She was astounded.

"If we start looking at the root causes of where this disparity happened between genders, you can trace it back to girls beginning to miss school, beginning to drop out of school, beginning to have their opportunities in life diminished because of hindrances to education," Bush explained. "The fact that they were born in a menstruating body should not be what causes that to happen to them."

"And I should asterisk," she noted, "that obviously it's easier or more traditional per data to be having these conversations about how this problem affects girls and eventually affects women, but when we're talking about teens who are struggling to take care of their own bodies at such a fragile and emotional and developmental time in life, I would be remiss to not also mention that it isn't just girls who menstruate. There are trans teens all across the country who are suffering this same problem, and they're suffering it in even more difficult circumstances that hinder their ability to talk about it."

"And so when we talk about access and we talk about making sure that we can get products into the hands of kids who need them, we wanna make sure they're getting to all kids who need them," she said.

While Bush understands that it may "feel like a daunting thing" for schools, companies and societies to start thinking about providing period products, she feels it would be a "game-changer" in a multitude of ways.

"If we could snap our fingers and have gender parity tomorrow, we would solve 50 percent of the UN development goals and raise the global GDP by 12 points," she claimed. "This isn't just a moral quagmire we find ourselves in; this is a smart financial imperative for the planet. Parity and equality would actually greatly elevate the quality of all people's lives."

Uttering "yup" at the mention that period products are taxed while Viagra is not, Bush said, "I think the pink tax is a joke, truly. I think it's insulting. Again, the fact that 51 percent of the population is treated as though what we need for our bodies is somehow a luxury is ridiculous. I think that that extends across the reality that women's shirts cost more to dry-clean than men's shirts. I think it extends across the reality that our lawmakers don't think that insurance should cover birth control but should cover Viagra. It is actually a joke."

Last year, Bush made the following statement in an interview that ended up making headlines over the perceived "shade" she threw at her ex-husband: "Ladies have to learn how to take up space in the way that men are taught they are entitled to." Given the topic of our interview, we asked her what she meant by that.

"I don't wanna generalize, but I have to generalize at the same time to talk about it," she replied. "Generally, women are taught to be smaller, take up less space, be less vocal. You see it in the ramifications of that sort of cultural positioning across the board -- whether it's quite literally women beginning to struggle with self-image about their bodies by the age of 8 and 9 years old here in the United States; women by the age of 13, when asked what they want most in the world, answering that they want to be thinner; women who will say that you have to play dumb not to intimidate the boys; women who will be told when they are successful, when they run a boardroom, that they're intimidating or that they're masculine or that they're whatever."

"Unless that woman wants to feel that she presents as masculine," she said, "that's not someone else's job to tell her."

"We are constantly given these messages that we are too thin or too fat or too smart or too dumb or too pretty or not pretty enough or too available or not available enough," Bush went on. "It's a wild yo-yo that women are put on, where the energy and the judgement served to create an anxiety and a fear makes people stay small. And those kinds of systems have been created by those in power. There's a system that uses its own personal kind of oppression for people of color. There are systems that use their personal kinds of oppression for people in the LGBTQ+ community, or systems that oppress the trans community. It goes on and on."

She added, "I really believe that for us, it is incredibly important when you look at how to create a new path, when we look at how to create a new parity, when we look at how to shift culture and how to eradicate sexual harassment [in] the workplace, how to eradicate bias from academia, it requires an awareness on the point of those in the position of power, and it requires a vigilance on our part to say, 'Wait, why did I just have an idea that I didn't voice?' Or when our allies are in the room and we do voice something, and the guy next to us says, 'You know what I think would be a great idea?' and repeats our point to resounding applause. Another guy has to say, 'That's an interesting thing you just said 'cause Jane just said that.' We've all experienced these things, and we do have a right to be just as intelligent, just as ambitious, just as driven, just as curious."

"We need to step into that base and power, and we need to do it with support," she said. "Changing a societal tendency doesn't happen overnight, but if we put our heads together, I believe we can go there."

To help #EndPeriodPoverty, Bush recommends bringing awareness to the issue on social media by tagging @always_brand and using the hashtag #EndPeriodPoverty. She also urges people who are able to donate period products to local schools and women's shelters to do so.

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