By Toni Brannagan
We’re hoping that today, on International Day of the Girl (and every other day, too!), you’ll join our efforts to smash the period taboo and fight for access to period products for *every* person with a period. International Day of the Girl, which began as a project of Plan International in 2012, was created to increase awareness of gender inequality and other issues faced by girls worldwide. The United Nations declared menstrual hygiene a public health issue in 2014 — unfortunately, this human rights crisis is thriving in the US today.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to recognize that our institutions should be serving *us*, and we have the power to initiate change. That’s why we’re standing with the young activists at PERIOD to demand that every student across the U.S.—from grade school through college—has free and easy access to period products. It’s 2018, and students in the US should not have to compromise their education or health to manage their periods.
“In thinking about our systems and the society in which we live, not recognizing menstruation—not recognizing that half of the population—is a sure sign that the democracy does not serve us all,” says Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, who has been leading the charge for equitable menstrual policy in the United States since 2015, and has authored the book Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity. “If we look at all our laws through the lens of people who menstruate, we can see how tilted it is, and how it doesn’t enable all our needs and acknowledge our realities.”
Periods are a natural (and uncontrollable, just to add) function. Access to education is crucial to empowerment for *every body*, and students cannot reach their full potential without basic necessities — for people with periods, that means free and accessible products to manage their menstruation. Tampons and pads being considered luxury products is as ridiculous as not providing toilet paper or soap.
Students who live without access to period products are denied equal footing. Many are forced to wear tampons and pads for longer than recommended, which puts them at higher risks for cervical cancer or infections like toxic shock syndrome. Others can’t concentrate on their studies, or miss class altogether. These issues also disproportionately affect low-income and trans students.
“More than just giving away product, we are demanding a long-term, sustainable solution to period poverty,” says Laura Blackburn, Program Manager at THINX, adding, “When I taught fifth grade in the Bronx, I noticed that some of my students used makeshift solutions to manage their periods or were unprepared when their periods came unexpectedly. To address that need, I had a fully stocked period product box that my students could depend on — no questions asked. It was important to me that my students didn’t have to miss out on learning time to schlepp down four flights of stairs to the nurse’s office to manage a basic biological function.”
Schools, not students and their teachers, should be held responsible for providing basic necessities — if you agree, sign our petition calling upon local boards of education, elected officials, and other policymakers to provide access to period products for young people in communities across the U.S.
What was menstrual access like when you were a student, at any grade level? Did you ever find yourself distracted from your studies by the thought of needing necessary period products? Share your stories with us in the comments!