Diandra Kalish Is Talking on the Period Stigma with UnTabooed

Diandra Kalish Is Talking on the Period Stigma with UnTabooed

It’s safe to say we’ve all hidden our tampons and pads in our purses, up our sleeves, or some other silly way, because let’s face it: Women must mask their menstruation. It’s taboo not to. Diandra Kalish saw this shame and started UnTabooed, a nonprofit working on breaking down the social stigmas around menstruation by providing education and supplies for women. We got to talk to her about her work.


What is UnTabooed and why is it awesome? 

Diandra Kalish: UnTabooed is a new nonprofit committed to breaking the taboo surrounding menstruation by providing menstrual health education and sustainable menstrual products to women in need, and promoting conversation among women everywhere. UnTabooed is awesome because it’s working to tackle the problem of lack of access to feminine hygiene products in a new way. We are basing our approach reusable products, which provide a sustainable solution for people who don’t have adequate products each month and may not be able to afford them.


Can you provide some of the numbers surrounding access to feminine hygiene products—why are they so few, so costly, and so unheard of? How is this an immediate threat to the lives of people who experience menstruation? 

DK: Currently, feminine hygiene products are taxed in New York City, most other parts of the United States, and many other countries around the world. According to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance Publication 840, “Feminine hygiene products are generally used to control a normal bodily function and to maintain personal cleanliness. Sales of these products are, therefore, generally subject to sales tax”. In New York City, that tax is 8.75%. That makes the average cost of a box of disposable tampons or pads between $5 and $8 per month. These products are also not covered by food stamps, so people who already have trouble affording essentials often don’t have money to purchase these products. Also, I have found that many shelters don’t list feminine hygiene products as something they need donated. However, women I talk to in theses same shelters say that they always need more products.

When people who experience menstruation don’t have proper access to products, major health issues can arise. Similarly to issues faced by people in developing nations where there is often a lack of products, people in the USA who menstruate will use whatever they have. Many people turn to dirty rags or pieces of old clothing or mattresses, which can quickly lead to skin irritations and infections.




UnTabooed fights to make feminine hygiene products more accessible and less stigmatized. Why would more comprehensive education and candid conversation make an immediate impact on the way we talk about menstruation? 

DK: I hope that more comprehensive education and candid conversation will lead to more people viewing menstruation as a natural process, instead of regarding it with the “ick” factor. It is a natural process that half of the population experiences. I believe if the topic becomes less stigmatized then products may be able to be subsidized (or even free!) and therefore more widely accessible.


What are your hopes for your future and the future of UnTabooed? 

DK: UnTabooed recently received fiscal sponsorship! This is incredibly exciting because now we can accept tax deductible donations and apply for grants as a 501(c)3 certified nonprofit. Moving forward, this means that we can expand our partnerships in New York City to help more people. I hope that eventually UnTabooed will work in multiple cities around the USA.


What has been one of your biggest challenges since starting UnTabooed, and how did you overcome it? 

DK: One of my biggest challenge has been adapting UnTabooed’s main goal to truly help the clients we work with. UnTabooed aims to work with homeless women, but unfortunately women who are truly street homeless and may not have access to bathrooms and running water for extended periods of time, will not benefit from reusables. For this reason, UnTabooed specifically works with shelters that provide housing for their clients, or with low income women who use the shelter for a resource, but live elsewhere.




What has been your proudest moment since starting UnTabooed? 

DK: My proudest moment since starting UnTabooed was a few months ago when I was invited to attend a roundtable held by Council Member Julissa Ferreras. I was so honored to be sitting at this table of incredible women (the Council Member, the founders of Lola Tampons, and Lisa De Bode who wrote the article that inspired UnTabooed, just to name a few). Kiran Gandhi, a personal shero of mine who free bled while running the London Marathon, was also there.

However, my (close) second proudest moment, was after the meeting, when I introduced myself to Kiran, and she complimented me (and my Twitter account) by saying she was so impressed, and got many relevant updates from following me!


What are reusables? Do you have any advice for young girls interested in making the switch to reusables? 

DK: Reusables are feminine hygiene products that can be used more than one time. The two types that UnTabooed works with are cloth pads and menstrual cups (there are also reusable tampons, and sea sponges). My best advice is learn about the products first. Whether you know someone who uses them who you can ask (feel free to reach out to me!), or are able to do some research on the internet, it is important to know a bit about how the products differ from disposables. Also knowledge is power, and the more you know about the products, the more empowered you will feel when you first use them.


What advice do you have for other women who want to start a non-profit around a passion they care about? 

DK: Make sure from the very beginning, even if you don’t have a team in place, to have a few people to bounce ideas off of. Use “pleasant persistence” to make connections (meaning make sure to follow up, and often that takes 2-3 tries before you get a response, but do so pleasantly). Try to form an advisory board of people, or a mentor, that you trust. I have been incredibly lucky to find a mentor, Tracy Puhl of GladRags, who has given me invaluable advice since UnTabooed’s second month. Finally, expect to be frustrated to tears at times; it means you’ve found your passion.