Flow Fest, Project X2+

Aubrey Miller, president of Project X2+, poses for a photo on Friday in Townsend’s Teahouse. Bozeman High’s most popular club will be hosting Flow Fest 2019 at the teahouse on Sunday to raise money for Days for Girls, a nonprofit that prepares and distributes menstrual products to girls in developing countries.

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Something that used to be a big taboo has become a major cause for Bozeman High School students, who are holding a fundraiser Sunday night to make menstrual products available to girls in developing countries so they won’t miss out on an education.

Senior Audrey Miller said Bozeman High students’ Project X2+ feminist club will hold their annual Flow Fest at Townshend’s Tea House downtown from 5 to 9 p.m., with live music, silent auction and raffles.

They will also sell female Mount Rushmore T-shirts with images of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai and Frieda Kahlo.

The festival raised nearly $6,000 last year for Days for Girls International, and “we’re hoping to top that,” said Miller, 18, club president. “It’s a very lively event. We’re trying to raise money for a great organization and have some fun in the process.”

Days for Girls International, a nonprofit based in Washington state, provides washable, reusable pads to girls and women in 125 countries, from India to Latin America, to help fight poverty and help women live in dignity.

Miller said because there’s still a huge stigma about menstruation in third world countries, girls are often forced to stay hidden away during their periods, so they can’t attend classes.

“One week every month girls are not going to school,” Miller said. “We think this is the most valuable thing we can do to help young girls to continue their education.”

Project X2+ is trying to send the message, Miller said, that “it’s not weird to menstruate, it’s normal, not dirty.”

Project X2+ was founded at Bozeman High in the 2010-2011 school year. Originally responding to bullying, the club grew to emphasize respect, empowerment and equality.

Named for the two X chromosomes that make a person female, the plus sign was added to make the name more inclusive, Miller said. Both girls and guys are club members.

It has grown to become the largest club at Bozeman High, Miller said, with about 75 members and 50 attending meetings.

Club advisor Chris Montano, an English teacher, said the club has hosted guest speakers on issues like women in sports, gender fluidity and women’s reproductive health. Erica Ross came from Montana State University to speak on the crisis of missing American Indian women and girls, and candidate Kathleen Williams spoke on women in politics to a crowd of more than 100 students.

The club works on smaller projects during the year like holding a balloon release to raise money for the Haven domestic violence shelter, but Flow Fest, which started five years ago, is its biggest annual event.

Even at Bozeman High, girls are really tired of having to hide signs of having their period at school, Miller said. If their period suddenly starts, they don’t want to have to miss class to run to the store or run home, or have to tell a teacher.

Her friend Owen Burroughs, who graduated a year early from Bozeman High to attend MSU, and some fellow BHS grads started an MSU club called Crescent Montana. It aims to make free menstrual products available in bathrooms in Montana schools.

In February Crescent Montana placed a free dispenser for pads and tampons in one bathroom at Bozeman High and Project X2+ keeps it stocked, Burroughs said.

Ultimately they hope to persuade school administrators that feminine hygiene products should be available free, just like paper towels or toilet paper, Miller said.

Burroughs said Crescent Montana is trying to fight “period poverty,” to remove barriers and stigma for students, as “the most effective way of ensuring no girl and no student is going to have to miss school.”

Burroughs, 18, said the Always brand of feminine products reported that one in five U.S. girls misses school at some point because of a lack of access to menstrual products.

Last year Scotland started providing free access to products in schools and universities, and this year Wales followed suit, according to news reports. New York, Illinois and California recently required free feminine hygiene products in schools.

Burroughs said he believes Crescent and Project X2+ are so far the only groups in Montana trying to solve period poverty.

“One reason this isn’t addressed more is because we look at it as a women’s issue,” Burroughs said. “But this is an issue of students not being able to get an education.”

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2633. Follow her on Twitter @gailnews.

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