By Anna McLeod, Editorial Intern
Growing up playing sports, I’ve accumulated countless hours in locker rooms. Whether it was schools, swim clubs, or local gyms, I was always dazzled by any sort of free products at these facilities. Alongside hair dryers and cotton balls, these vanities occasionally included pads and tampons. As a child and young adolescent, the message was clear that period products were an added perk, not a necessity. However, menstrual products are just as much of a necessity as toilet paper.
Why should schools provide free menstrual products?
Supplying free and accessible period products in schools is a key step in fighting period poverty as well as reducing stigma surrounding menstruation. Additionally, increasing accessibility can decrease the amount of class time missed when searching for period products or a change of clothes. A study completed by Thinx and PERIOD found that 70% of students feel that the school environment makes them especially self conscious of their period. Further, 67% of students believe that too many people have to miss out on valuable school time because they do not have the period products they need. Considering these findings, there is an obvious need for schools to take action.
A spectrum of state legislation
Currently, there is no federal legislation that requires schools to provide period products, leaving it up to state governments. State governments may utilize their legislative sessions to propose bills that provide these products in schools. This would require states to examine their budgets and determine areas where funding can be used to supply these products. For those states that have laws requiring these supplies be available, they must also determine at what school it is appropriate (e.g., 5th grade). Most states include middle and high schools, but states that do not require menstrual products in elementary schools may leave younger menstruators isolated. Menstruation can start as early as age 8, when individuals are in 3rd grade.
In states that don’t provide financial support, the responsibility of supplying school bathrooms falls to the community and outside donations. One organization that has made significant donations is PERIOD.. PERIOD., a non-profit addressing period poverty, donated menstrual products to more than 400 organizations across the United States and internationally in 2022. Bright Spot, a local program organized by the Austin Diaper Bank, provides pads and tampons to schools in the area. PERIOD. and Bright Spot are just two of the many local and national organizations providing free period products to schools across the country.
Some notable legislation
- In Colorado, SB21-255 created a grant program designating $100,000 from the department of education to eligible grant recipients to provide period products in schools.
- Delaware passed HB 20 that requires 50% of bathrooms used by individuals that menstruate must provide period products. Additionally, schools must publish maps of where period products are accessible on their website and in common areas of the school.
- HB 641 in Illinois expands accessibility beyond k-12 and requires that all public universities and community colleges provide free menstrual products in campus bathrooms.
- New Mexico recently passed HB 134 which requires period products in every women’s bathroom and gender-neutral bathroom as well as at least one men’s bathroom in public schools. This legislation is especially noteworthy because it acknowledges that not all menstruators identify as women.
- Ann Arbor, Michigan passed a restroom supplies ordinance in 2021 requiring that pads and tampons are made available for all business customers, students, employees, and users of public bathrooms. Any organization that does not follow this ordinance is subject to an $100 fine.
While this article only touches on a few state policies, Aunt Flow, an organization devoted to advocating for free menstrual products in all bathrooms, created a U.S. map outlining legislative updates.
Each of these legislative efforts moves towards a world in which free and accessible period products are not the exception, but the rule.