This week we're proud to share sisterhood member Kayla Hayempour, a menstrual equity activist who started her organization Petticoats Rule to combat period poverty in Los Angeles and internationally. Her efforts with social justice organizations such as Girls Learn International, The Pad Project, and Women Deliver have been recognized globally, and she’s served as a delegate to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and on Mayor Garcetti’s Youth Council. An incoming UCLA freshman, she's excited to work with and inspire the next generation of changemakers.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us Jackie. Tell us about the organization you started Petticoats Rule, how did you pick the name and what does it mean to you?
Petticoat Rule was a term coined during the early 1900s when women were fighting for the right to vote. First wave feminism sparked fear that women’s suffrage would bring the government under “Petticoat Rule,” being run entirely by women. To me, Petticoat Rule means taking my power back by changing the stigma surrounding menstruation.
What inspired you to do the work you’re doing?
Growing up I experienced extreme and debilitating menstrual pain that forced me to miss weeks of school and activities. At only the age of nine, I was in and out of the OB/GYN office. I saw countless doctors, none of whom could figure out what was wrong with me, leaving me frustrated and defeated (their failure to mask their surprise at a little girl in the examination room certainly didn’t help). The social taboos and cultural stigma surrounding menstruation magnified my shame, making me fearful to talk about my struggles to my closest friends and family.
After years of struggling in silence, I experienced a life changing epiphany not through medicine but through film. During the 2019 Oscars, I watched in shock as Period. End of Sentence. won best short documentary. A documentary about menstruation? I didn’t think it was possible. During their acceptance speech, the directors spoke so freely. “A period should end a sentence. Not a girl’s education,” they said. There was no shame in this bold declaration, and I was empowered.
The next day I watched the film, and for the first time, I felt like my period wasn't a curse. I learned how girls in countries such as India are forced to end their education once they get their periods, a concept known as period poverty. On the other side of the world, I could still connect with this feeling about being hindered by something outside of your control, especially your period. The difference lay in my access to medical care, menstrual products, and birth control, while these girls used old rags and dirty water. My period became a privilege instead of a burden, and I was inspired to speak my truth to effect change.
(Now, I’m a Pad Project ambassador and work directly with the women who created that same documentary. Talk about full circle).
What is period poverty and who does it affect?
Period poverty refers to the inadequate access to menstrual resources, such as tools and education. The term is most commonly used for menstrual products, like pads and tampons, but also includes:
-health and sanitation facilities like bathrooms
-birth control (sexual + reproductive health and rights services)
-comprehensive sex ed
All these things are required to live with dignity. They should be human rights!
What is the menstrual equity movement?
The menstrual equity movement is a movement to end period poverty using a combination of actions: advocacy, legislation, education, and the breaking down of stigma. The goal is to ensure that all menstruators have access to the safe and affordable products, and information they need, while also spreading awareness to those who don’t menstruate.
How can we help end period poverty?
Period poverty is rooted in the shame and stigma surrounding menstruation which means the best way to help end it is by normalizing periods. Period is not a dirty word nor should it be an embarrassing topic. Normalize sharing products without concealing them (ah yes, the struggle of sneaking a pad from class into the bathroom) or talking about periods openly. No more euphemisms like “that time of the month” or coming up with excuses like “the flu” instead of your period. No more poking fun. The more comfortable the world gets with menstruation, the closer we are to breaking down institutional and larger barriers.
Can you give us a story that exemplifies why you get fulfillment out of the work you do?
This spring I was a girl delegate to the annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, a global conference to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, founded on the Sustainable Development Goals and Beijing Platform. I led a Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Bodily Autonomy where I met a fourteen year old girl from India. She shared that she’s not allowed to go into the kitchen when menstruating because of the belief that periods are “impure.” She told me that her act of period rebellion was just going into the kitchen and getting food when she was hungry.
While we all laughed at her story in the moment, it still hits me how lucky I am compared to other girls. I would never think twice about going and grabbing a snack during my period, but it’s something so monumental for others. It reminds me how important menstrual equity is and pushes me to keep breaking down barriers locally and around the world.
Is there a roadblock you had to overcome to get where you are today? How did you do it?
Like many others, COVID was a big roadblock I had to overcome. Prior to officially founding Petticoats Rule about a year ago, I received grant funding from the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles to host a community screening of the documentary Period. End of Sentence. When the stay at home order was issued, I had to cancel the entire event last minute. It was hard and disappointing, but I was able to pivot and create something even better: my organization. I researched new ways to use my grant money and ended up using it to create 150 sustainable, reusable pad kits.
Is there something you consider yourself an expert in? What has it taught you?
Periods. I’m constantly learning new things in the feminist space, but both my personal experiences and what I’ve experienced as a menstrual equity activist means I’m as close to an expert as you can get. Everyone always comes to me with questions about periods, current events, or women’s rights, and it’s a great feeling to have reached a point where I can use my voice and platform for change both big and small.
The more I grow and branch out, the more I realize how much must be done. Our society teaches women that periods and their bodies are something to be ashamed of. I never had someone to help me unlearn my shame; that’s who I want to be for the girls around me.
When was the last time you had to be super brave?
When I was hosting a virtual school wide screening of the documentary Period. End of Sentence. It’s always hard knowing how people will react to such a taboo topic, especially in an environment like high school where teenagers are quick to criticize. There ended up being a fantastic turnout of over 60 students, many of whom sent me messages afterwards sharing support or saying how much they learned.
What does choosing yourself mean to you?
Self advocacy. As a women’s rights activist, I use my voice to stand up for others on a daily basis, but sometimes I just have to speak up for myself.
For example, pushing past doctors who invalidated my extreme period pain to keep searching for a solution. By recognizing that I know my body best, and fighting for someone who would listen and work with me, I chose myself.
How do you practice self love and care on a daily/weekly basis?
Self love and care means balancing my time spent with others with time for myself. I’m an extrovert who loves constantly doing something new or being with people. However, it’s still important to me that I find small pockets during the day where I can just be alone and at peace with myself. Those small moments of escape and recognizing when I need to slow down and recharge are essential. Not everything has to be go, go, go, all the time and that’s okay.
When you were a child, what made you the happiest?
This was one of the hardest questions because while there are so many individual moments of happiness, it’s also just a general feeling that you can’t quite capture. Soccer and One Direction were probably two of the most tangible things, which is funny as I can now connect both to my feminism.
What is your advice to your 18, 25, and 40-year-old self?
18 - You’ve worked hard for 4 years, you deserve to let loose and party a little. Also, Go Bruins.
25 - Eat good food and pick the wild card over the 9 to 5. Set boundaries and stick with them.
40 - Never stop traveling the world. Keep the pink hair and live boldly.
What do you love most about yourself?
My voice. I unapologetically stand up for what’s right and speak up for what I believe in. It’s taken me some time to find it but now that it’s been unleashed there’s no stopping me. Even though I’m young, I hold so much power in changing the world. My passion and dedication to causes all around the world is what makes me who I am.
What is something you're willing to be vulnerable about with us?
Activist burnout is real and hard. Sometimes it feels so overwhelming to constantly be fighting for things, especially once you realize how many issues really need to be solved. I have a tendency to try everything, and while I admire my fierce and passionate spirit, I’m also learning that it’s okay not to take on every role or challenge.
It keeps me going to remember that you don’t need to fix the whole world, just your corner of it.
What is your message for our community?
Seek discomfort (unless it’s period cramps, then maybe pop an Advil). The best change and success comes from open and honest dialogue, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. We need honesty and awkwardness in order to grow, whether it’s within the menstrual equity movement or not. I implore the Fred + Far community to have that conversation they keep avoiding. You never know what might come from it.
Anything you have going on right now that you want to promote or share?
Yes! During my delegation to the United Nations, I partnered with a Nigerian menstrual equity organization called HAFAI (Health Aid For All Initiative). Led by Dr. Ugochi Ohajuruka, HAFAI promotes the rights of girls/women to education and safe healthcare choices using a holistic approach to behavioral change, and sustainable menstrual hygiene management solutions.
We recently launched a joint fundraising campaign aimed at ending period poverty and keeping girls in school. Many girls in developing countries are forced to use leaves, dirty rags, or cornhusks to manage their periods since they can’t afford sanitary products. This forces girls around the world to miss or drop out of school, leading to lower socioeconomic status and increased poverty. Donating to our campaign helps fund menstrual education, reusable pad kits, and sewing machines to create jobs.