Gina Rodriguez on fighting 'period poverty': 'I have a voice and I'm proud of it'

When Gina Rodriguez was 15, her classmates made fun of her for being flat-chested. The future "Jane the Virgin" actress hadn't yet gotten her period, which made her feel "vulnerable" to being judged and ridiculed by her peers.

Flash forward nearly 20 years, and Rodriguez is speaking out on behalf of young women like herself, partnering with Always in its fight to end "period poverty," which wants to reverse a trend that sees 1 in 5 American girls missing school due to a lack in access to period products.

"It’s not taboo, and it shouldn’t be -- especially in America," Rodriguez told AOL's Gibson Johns about the conversation around periods. "We talk about how progressive we are, but it’s a little setback to hear that stat about 1 in 5 girls. That’s a lot of young people, and it's such a vulnerable time in their lives. I’m fighting for them. I’m fighting for 15-year-old Gina. Like, 'Don’t make fun of the fact that I’m flat-chested. I’ll get my period and then hopefully I’ll have products for it.'"

"It’s normal and it’s our super power," Rodriguez continued. "When a girl has her period, that means she can have a baby. Her power has just come into effect, and it should be celebrated in that way."

In Rodriguez's mind, it's all about reframing that conversation to be positive and something that people don't feel ashamed to talk about. And, if she's the person that has to use her voice to start that new conversation, then so be it.

"This is where I lend my voice. This is where flying in and out of New York in one day and then going back to work the next day has to happen. Because if you don’t do it, who’s going to?" Rodriguez explained. "It’s about the normalization of the conversation and bringing awareness to a conversation that rarely happens in our culture. We talk about a lot of sh-t in our culture, especially now, so if there’s a time and a climate to talk about something that makes people uncomfortable, let’s do it now. I would like to change that culture surrounding it, too."

Since entering the public eye, the Golden Globe-winning actress hasn't been shy about using her platform to help amplify the voices and problems of those without such a platform. But as she told us, it took her some time to be comfortable with that.

"I want to enrich my life and fill it with goodness and service and blessings and positivity," Rodriguez said. "I think that’s the one thing I wish I would’ve told myself when I was younger: Start that now! But, I’m very proud to get to this place where I’m comfortable in this and in me and this feels right. I have a voice and I’m proud of it. I’m not afraid of it. And Always approached me for that voice."

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Gina Rodriguez out and about
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 03: Gina Rodriguez seen on location for 'Someone Great' in Washington Square Park on May 3, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by James Devaney/GC Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 23: Actress Gina Rodriguez attends the CinemaCon 2018 Gala Opening Night Event: Sony Pictures Highlights its 2018 Summer and Beyond Films at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace during CinemaCon, the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners,on April 23, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 14: Gina Rodriguez attends 'CBS Hosts The EYEspeak Summit' at Pacific Design Center on March 14, 2018 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 04: Gina Rodriguez arrives at the 90th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 04: Gina Rodriguez (R) and Joe LoCicero attend the 90th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 4, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 20: (L-R) Actors Joe LoCicero, Mark Hamill and host Gina Rodriguez attend the Costume Designers Guild Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 20, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for JumpLine)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 20: Gina Rodriguez attends the 20th CDGA (Costume Designers Guild Awards) - Arrivals on February 20, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
WESTWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 13: Actress Gina Rodriguez attends the Los Angeles premiere of 'Annihilation' at Regency Village Theatre on February 13, 2018 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
WESTWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 13: (L-R) Tuva Novotny, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Natalie Portman, and Gina Rodriguez attend the premiere of Paramount Pictures' 'Annihilation' at Regency Village Theatre on February 13, 2018 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)
Gina Rodriguez arrives for the 24th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Exposition Center on January 21, 2018, in Los Angeles, California. / AFP PHOTO / Jean-Baptiste LACROIX (Photo credit should read JEAN-BAPTISTE LACROIX/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 10: Actress Gina Rodriguez arrives at a screening of 20th Century Fox's 'Ferdinand' at the Zanuck Theater at 20th Century Fox Lot on December 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 03: Gina Rodriguez arrives to the ACLU SoCal's Annual Bill of Rights dinner held at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on December 3, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)
WESTWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 12: Actress Gina Rodriguez attends the premiere of 'The Star' at Regency Village Theatre on November 12, 2017 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0777 -- Pictured: Actress Gina Rodriguez on November 27, 2017 -- (Photo by: Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 06: Gina Rodriguez is seen in NoHo on November 6, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Gotham/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14: In this handout photo provided by One Voice: Somos Live!, Actor Gina Rodriguez speaks onstage during 'One Voice: Somos Live! A Concert For Disaster Relief' at the Universal Studios Lot on October 14, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/One Voice: Somos Live!/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 07: Actress Gina Rodriguez arrives at the L.A. Dance Project's Annual Gala at L.A. Dance Project on October 7, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 07: Joe Locicero, Gina Rodriguez arrives at the L.A. Dance Project's Annual Gala at L.A. Dance Project on October 7, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
SANTA MONICA, CA - SEPTEMBER 23: Gina Rodriguez attends the 27th Annual EMA Awards - Show at Barker Hangar on September 23, 2017 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - SEPTEMBER 23: Gina Rodriguez speaks onstage at the Environmental Media Association's 27th Annual EMA Awards at Barkar Hangar on September 23, 2017 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Environmental Media Association)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Gina Rodriguez arrives at the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 22: Actress Gina Rodriguez attends SAG-AFTRA Foundation's Conversations with 'Jane The Virgin' at SAG-AFTRA Foundation Screening Room on May 22, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vincent Sandoval/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 22: Actress Gina Rodriguez attends SAG-AFTRA Foundation's Conversations with 'Jane The Virgin' at SAG-AFTRA Foundation Screening Room on May 22, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vincent Sandoval/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 20: Gina Rodriguez attends the 'Jane The Virgin' Screening during the Vulture Festival at Milk Studios on May 20, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Aurora Rose/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 16: Gina Rodriguez at Stephen Colbert show on May 16, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Gotham/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 18: Gina Rodriguez attends The CW Network's 2017 Upfront at The London Hotel on May 18, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The CW)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 15: Gina Rodriguez attends the Ballet Hispanico 2017 Carnaval Gala at The Plaza Hotel on May 15, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Donna Ward/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 01: Actress Gina Rodriguez attends SAG-AFTRA Foundation's Conversations with 'Jane The Virgin' at SAG-AFTRA Foundation Screening Room on May 1, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Vincent Sandoval/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 11: Gina Rodriguez attends the 'Seed' Documentary Film Premiere at Violet Crown in Austin on March 11, 2017 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Hewlett Packard Enterprise)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 12: Actor Gina Rodriguez speaks onstage during The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NARAS)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Gina Rodriguez arrives at the 23rd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Expo Hall on January 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 08: Gina Rodriguez arrives at the 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 8, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 04: Gina Rodriguez attends the 2nd Annual Moet Moment Film Festival and Kick Off of Golden Globes Week on January 4, 2017 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - NOVEMBER 30: Gina Rodriguez visits 'Extra' at Universal Studios Hollywood on November 30, 2016 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images)
MARINA DEL REY, CA - NOVEMBER 19: Actress Gina Rodriguez arrives at the 1st Annual Marie Claire Young Women's Honors at the Marina del Rey Marriott on November 19, 2016 in Marina del Rey, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)
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Another reason why the actress is so drawn to Always' mission is that it's also about educating young people. As she explained to AOL, she grew up in a low-income neighborhood in the Chicago area with poor public schools and her parents would drive their kids to private schools so that they could get good educations. Because of her parents' dedication, she's made it her mission to help those that were in similar disadvantaged positions.

"I grew up in the hood, got a good education [and then] got out of the hood. It was like, that’s what you do. And then what you do is you go back and you try to get everyone else out, too," she said. "To think that there are girls that are missing out on opportunities is heartbreaking. You think about the sliding door possibilities, and already the playing field is unfair."

And in a time when, as she said, the conversation around gender equality and power dynamics has never been more at the forefront of culture, this is the time to raise awareness for every kind of inequality, especially one that exists for so many young women and can go to affect the rest of their lives.

"We talk about how to uplift our women and how to get more women in CEO positions and in front and behind the camera," Rodriguez explained. "Well, it definitely starts there. It starts when we’re young. We need feminine products, so that we don’t miss out on class just because we’re not boys."

Join the conversation by posting a throwback photo on Instagram, using the hashtag #EndPeriodPoverty and tagging @Always_brand.

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