Jill Biden recognizes 15 young women from 13 states for advocacy to improve their communities

WASHINGTON (AP) — A charitable act by twins Brooke and Breanna Bennett to help give menstrual products to girls in Alabama public housing led them to start an organization that aims to end “period poverty” by ensuring broad access to the items women and girls need when it is that time of the month.

The sisters helped lobby for a state law passed earlier this year to provide sanitary pads and other menstrual products to students. And on Wednesday, the 16-year-old twins were among a group of young women recognized at the White House by first lady Jill Biden for their advocacy on this and other issues, from pushing for tighter gun laws and against book bans to encouraging civic engagement and combating antisemitism.

“Brooke and I wanted to make it our mission to destigmatize periods and menstrual hygiene and the female reproductive system,” Breanna told a reporter after the ceremony.

Brooke said the issue is one that people, especially men, don’t like talking about, but they lobbied state legislators for a bill that became law earlier this year.

“We had to go and initially, not just talk about what period poverty is, but we’d have to explain it because they were all males and we didn’t know if they would understand what we were talking about,” Brooke said. “It took us three years to pass it.”

The Montgomery, Alabama, residents are now working on getting Congress to pass a federal law.

The 15 young women honored at the White House’s first “Girls Leading Change” event on International Day of the Girl range in age from 15 to 18 and represent 13 states.

“They’re protecting and preserving our earth, writing and sharing stories that change minds, using their summer breaks to testify before their state legislature and turning their pain into purpose,” Jill Biden said. “You saw something that you knew was wrong and you decided to fix it. You represent every girl’s potential.”

The other honorees are:

— Jazmin Cazares, 18, of Uvalde, Texas, became an activist against gun violence after her sister Jackie was killed in the shooting at Robb Elementary School.

— Mona Cho, 15, of Redondo Beach, California, works to combat online harassment and abuse.

— Julia Garnett, 17, of Hendersonville, Tennessee, advocated in her school district for student representation on book review committees and served on her high school’s committee.

— Logan Hennes, 16, of New York, works with students to address antisemitism in their schools.

— Anja Herrman, 17, of River Forest, Illinois, is a disability rights activist and advocate for equity and inclusion.

— Leela Marie Hidier, 18, of Yarmouth, Maine, is a climate social justice advocate.

— Elisa Martinez, 17, of Las Vegas, encourages civic engagement, particularly among Latinos.

— Gabriella Nakai, 17, of Phoenix, is a Navajo and Choctaw leader who works on improving food security and sustainability.

— Zahra Rahimi, 17, of Alexandria, Virginia, arrived in the U.S. from Afghanistan four years ago and helps other refugees resettle in her community.

— Gitanjali Rao, 17, of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, is a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has won awards for developing a tool to detect lead contamination.

— Avery Turner, 17, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, supports military children like herself.

— Sandra Ukah, 18, of Lake Mary, Florida, is a first-year student at the University of Florida who was a co-founder and co-president of Seminole High School’s Black Student Union, the first one in the country.

— Rania Zuri, 18, of Morgantown, West Virginia, is CEO of The LiTEArary Society, a nonprofit organization she founded when she was 13 to end “book deserts” for disadvantaged preschool children.

Darlene Superville covers The White House