M-A should offer menstrual products such as pads and tampons in all women’s and gender-neutral restrooms and in at least one men’s restroom, as soon as possible. Per California’s newly approved Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021, this will be legally mandated for the 2022-23 school year, but M-A needs to act now.
The act requires public middle and high schools that meet a 40% student poverty threshold, like M-A, to provide free and readily accessible menstrual products to students. Section 1.b.1 of the bill states, “California recognizes that access to menstrual products is a basic human right and is vital for ensuring the health, dignity, and full participation of all Californians in public life.”
A similar policy has already been instituted at other schools in our district, such as Sequoia High School.
Claudia Rendon, Sequoia’s health aide, said that at her school “free pads and tampons are in the Health Office, as well as in the dispensaries in the restrooms.” She explained, “I give two products for each student that comes into the Health Office, and get an average of five or six girls a day.” Roughly, that’s about 240 products distributed to students a month through the Health Office alone. Additionally, Rendon said that the dispensaries in the restroom are restocked every night and “the feminist group at our school set up a program which provides a ‘pink box’ in every classroom, containing feminine products available for all students.”
While some might argue that students would abuse the free period products, this is a risk with any free school-provided service, such as free lunch and even toilet paper. Collectively, we have decided those programs warrant possible student abuse so that students who need them always have access; we should treat a service that will primarily be used by female students the same as any other program of this nature.
Currently, M-A only offers menstrual products in the Health Office. Health aide Tonya Edgington said, “I have period products in my office, and hand them to the ladies when they need them.” But the Health Office’s open hours can vary daily, so it is not the most dependable source for period products. Moreover, walking to the Health Office, using the period product, and returning to class can take up to 15 minutes on such a large campus. A waste of class time for students.
The Menstrual Equity Act cites research showing that “students lacking access to menstrual products experience higher rates of absences, and are less able to focus and engage in the classroom.” Nationally, 4 in 5 menstruating teens report having missed class time, or knowing someone else who has, because they didn’t have period products.
Students may also feel uncomfortable going to the Health Office or asking staff for menstrual products, or they might not even be aware that there are menstrual products available there. As a result, the majority of students bring their own products with them or ask a friend if an emergency comes up, which is unreliable and at times embarrassing due to societal stigmatization.
Rendon said Sequoia’s accessible period products help students because it “prevents them from having to leave campus or use a lot of class time getting the supplies; they can easily either go to the restroom or come to the Health Office and those products are provided for them.”
Although our community could wait a year for things to change with this new law, we must be proactive. Periods are an unnecessarily taboo topic, and period products themselves have unnecessary taxes, therefore it is necessary we take the steps to support our menstruating student body as soon as possible.
If half of the M-A population menstruates, why aren’t they accounted for?