Student Activists Are Breaking the Silence on Period Poverty

Until menstrual products are as ubiquitous as toilet paper and talking about periods is normalized, the fight to #FreeThePeriod continues.

9/27/2021 1:57:00 AM

Until menstrual products are as ubiquitous as toilet paper and talking about periods is normalized, the fight to FreeThePeriod continues.

Student activists in the 'Free The Period' coalition have worked to introduce California Assembly Bill 367, the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021.Until menstrual products are as ubiquitous as toilet paper and talking about periods is normalized—the fight to #FreeThePeriod continues.

()Toxic shock syndrome, bloody pants and missed school are just a few of the symptoms of period poverty—the lack of access to menstrual healthcare. Ask any person who menstruates and they can tell you what this looks like: the panic felt when a period comes unexpectedly in public, or the discomfort of having to use a wad of toilet paper as a makeshift pad. 

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I once had the mortifying experience of my toilet paper “pad” unraveling and dropping out of my pant leg, dragging on the floor as I walked down my high school hallways unaware. I was overwhelmed with embarrassment at the time—but in retrospect, the entire situation stemmed from the impractical expectation that those who menstruate should be responsible for always carrying a pad or tampon with them. 

Student activists are now pushing back, calling for free menstrual products to be provided in bathrooms, just like toilet paper, urinal cakes and other bathroom necessities. We’re tired of having free condoms shoved at us at schools where there are no free menstrual products. At my high school, the only way to get menstrual products was by begging your friends or going down to the locker rooms, where one sympathetic PE teacher sold them for 25 cents apiece. If you didn’t have coins on you, or were too shy to ask for them, you were out of luck.

Taking ActionTogether with four students at my public university, I started an effort to push for free products in our campus bathrooms. We talked to every university administrator we could get a meeting with, and eventually secured a grant to start a pilot program in a limited number of bathrooms. The pilot program was created because administrators wanted us to prove to them what we already knew: that students need menstrual products in campus bathrooms. But even after collecting usage data, administrators offered only partial funding for menstrual product access in campus bathrooms. 

We thought if our administrators weren’t going to meet our needs, we needed to take it to the top—to the California State Legislature. (Becker1999 / Creative Commons)By then, our small campus initiative had morphed into a statewide coalition of students and organizations fighting to secure menstrual product access in their communities. We named our coalition “Free The Period” and held weekly video calls to strategize on how we would lobby legislators, train our peers in political advocacy,  and spread awareness around period poverty. 

This year, we teamed up with nine other organizations to introduceCalifornia Assembly Bill 367, The Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021. Thanks to our collaborative effort, AB 367 could make free menstrual products available in all California public schools grades 6–12, community colleges and California state universities. It has so far received unanimous support in both house floor votes, and we’re hoping that it will be signed into law by the end of the year. 

Read more: Ms. Magazine »

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YES! This should definitely happen! It’s true what they say: if this was an issue for most men, heaven and earth would be moved to make products free, deal with associated health issues and innovate products.

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