Pro/Con: Fighting against period poverty

November 29, 2021

Shira Brown has seen many women on campus running into her office at the CSUN Women’s Research and Resource Center with bloodstains on their clothing. One day a student rushed in, jacket around her waist with a red spot on the skirt of her dress and hurriedly asked whether or not Brown had any period products. After providing her with a spare shirt to wear and some free pads, the young woman left. Brown, a professor of gender and women’s studies at CSUN and the director of the WRRC, believes students shouldn’t have to experience this.

On Oct. 8, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 367, which requires all public schools and colleges in California to have their restrooms — or at least one dedicated and accessible location — stocked with free menstrual products for their students by the 2022-2023 school year.

The University Student Union already offers free menstrual products in its restrooms, but now CSUN will have to find a way to bring them to the entire campus.

To expand beyond the USU, CSUN will pull from its operating budget and decide on at least one location to offer these products. Each CSU will be responsible for determining how to get the products and where to make them available, according to Hazel Kelly, public affairs manager for the CSU.

“You should be able to run into any bathroom and grab a tampon or pad,” Brown said. “Just because 100% of the population doesn’t need it, doesn’t mean it’s not a necessity.”

Period poverty is used as a general term to describe inequalities related to menstruation, such as a lack of access to period products and education. This issue affects menstruating people worldwide, especially those who are unhoused, incarcerated or in school.

A study from George Mason University found that 1 in 10 female college students experience period poverty monthly, while 14% of those surveyed said they struggled to pay for period products within the last year. As of 2019, 30 states consider menstrual products a luxury item and have imposed sales taxes on them. California has a temporary exemption on its menstrual product tax until 2023.

Period poverty has become a prevalent problem among menstruators in California. In a 2020 study by the Alliance for Period Supplies, 1 in 6 women and girls between the ages of 12 and 44 live below the federal poverty line in California. This affects their ability to afford period products, which cannot be purchased with support programs like food stamps.

Newsom’s administration wants to eliminate period poverty for those going to school.

“Often periods arrive at inconvenient times,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia in an October press release. “Having convenient and free access to menstrual products means our period won’t prevent us from being productive members of society, and would alleviate the anxiety of trying to find a product when out in public.”

Inspired by Scotland’s adoption of its Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill in November 2020, Garcia wrote AB 367 in an attempt to alleviate period poverty in California. It stems from Assembly Bill 10 — which she also lobbied for — that required low-income schools to provide these products and now is expanded to include schools with grades 6 to 12, community colleges, and the California State University and University of California systems.

Combatting period poverty has been a mass effort from nonprofit organizations and leaders across the globe. Menstrual advocacy in the United States started in the 1960s as a fringe movement by health activists, consumer rights advocates, environmentalists and feminist spiritualists. It later spread to subcultures fighting the exploitation of women’s menstrual cycles for profit and has since become a mainstream movement that now includes all menstruating people.

Groups like The Pad Project, Period Equity and #HappyPeriod work within their communities to connect menstruating people with access to period products and education.

Although women are often the ones facing period poverty, Chelsea VonChaz, the founder of #HappyPeriod, believes that it is not just a women’s issue, but a human rights issue.

“Period poverty has many consequences: students can miss class because they lack access to products; people might bleed through their clothes or wear products longer than medically recommended; people may use unhygienic and unsafe materials like socks,” said Rachel Wilson, associate director of domestic programs at The Pad Project. “Ending period poverty could change this.”

To combat period poverty locally, the Pad Project hosts menstrual product donation drives and gives grants to local organizations and community groups to purchase menstrual supplies. Founded in 2013 by students and educators at Oakwood High School in the San Fernando Valley, the organization started as a documentary film project on a village in India that struggled with period poverty. The Pad Project has placed pad machines in two countries, and launched programs in the United States and other countries to make period products more accessible.

During the pandemic, the CSUN’s WRRC received grant money from The Pad Project to provide free pads, liners, tampons and menstrual cups to the campus.
Newsom’s AB 367 may not eliminate period poverty, but Brown believes that it is a necessary step towards ensuring that all menstruating people have access to a product that can greatly affect their day-to-day life.

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