The School Needs to do Better. Period.


Photo courtesy of Google Images

Ashley Bryan, Special to the Big Red

Forget math tests or kickball, having to change a pad or tampon during the day is the scariest thing you can do at school. Finding the perfect hiding spot for it as you make your way from your bag to the bathroom is always a struggle. How do I get it into my pocket, shoe, or sleeve without anyone seeing? Do I just bring my whole bag? Nah, that’s too obvious.

 All my fellow menstruators can relate to that monthly obstacle. But hear this: what if I told you you didn’t have to jump through hoops to get your tampons or pads to the bathroom unseen? How would you feel if I told you that schools had the power to provide free products in the bathroom? Interested, right? Well, they can, and plenty of schools in the U.S. and around the world already do. 

School is supposed to be a safe, comfortable environment where students should not feel ridiculed or made uncomfortable by their bodies. School administrations have the responsibility to make their buildings comfortable for all students which is possible by making free period products available in bathrooms and actively working to remove the stigma around periods. 

It’s understandable that educators and school administrators are hesitant to take this step. Many schools, including our very own Hudson High, do not offer free period products in bathrooms. Instead our school offers them for free in the nurse’s office, if you are brave enough to ask. School officials may think that this is enough. They are providing the resources, now it is just up to the students to utilize the tools they provide. 

Props to Hudson High for having that available, really, because most schools don’t even offer that. But with respect, that just isn’t cutting it for most of our school’s menstruators. We need a little bit more. Be honest, how many of you actually knew that the school nurse’s office had free sanitary products? I didn’t, and I’ve been going to this school for three years. The fact of the matter is, if no one is advertising it and students don’t know about it then it’s doing no good for the student body. If a school is going to offer free services at all, they need to be readily available to students and properly advertised. 

Having these products already available in bathrooms also gives students back a sense of dignity. Students often feel too self-conscious to ask for help from an adult and will turn to their closest friends with this sensitive information rather than reach out from their circle. If even they don’t have anything to spare, rather than going to the nurses’ office most girls resort to a carefully folded piece of toilet paper. Not to mention the students who aren’t comfortable openly talking about their menstruation, such as trans and non-binary students. Providing products in bathrooms is the most discreet method possible. 

Both national and international examples can be seen of schools administering the distribution of period products in a successful way. If they can do it, so can we. New Zealand is a country that just recently started actively doing this in all of its schools starting in late March. Before then, all schools had performed a trial run during their third and fourth terms of the 2020 school year. Students would choose their preferred period products, then the school would specifically order those for each student to take home with them. This trial run was met with overwhelmingly positive responses. 

More locally, Brookline, MA recently started up one of these programs as well which was met with much enthusiasm. They discovered that for their town it would cost them $40,000 upfront and $7,500 a year moving forward. Considering Hudson High already provides free products in the nurse’s office, how big of a leap would it be to get those products into bathrooms? We have the supplies; we just need a better method of distribution like a dispenser that could be treated as any new addition to the school such as a water fountain. School funding or fundraising could help pay for this. 

Period poverty, or the inability to stock your own period products, has been found to be a driving force keeping young people out of school. A survey showed that 7% of girls in Britain missed school because they weren’t able to afford period products. Out of all the reasons to miss school, that should never be one of them. The brand Always, a period product company, in 2018 took a poll that found that 1 in 5 girls in the United States have left early from school or missed school entirely because they didn’t have any period products. For the most part, everyone can agree that education is a right, right?  In that case, when access to period products infringes upon menstruating students’ right to education then doesn’t it become the educators’ responsibility to make sure that they are providing students with the materials they need to succeed? Shouldn’t this be treated like any other school supplies? Yeah, because otherwise menstruators would be put at an unfair disadvantage, don’t you think?

I’ve said it once but I’ll say it again: all students have a right to feel comfortable at school, and no manageable body situation, like menstruation, should have to inhibit students from getting a full education. This means the most obvious solution would be that schools should provide free period products in bathrooms which will also help fight the stigma around menstruation. 

There are so many ways to help the Menstrual Equity movement and work towards getting period products into schools. Joining programs is the most hands-on way to get involved. Some prominent organizations you can join include Period, an international youth-run organization, Girl-Up, an international club, or Period Purse, a nonprofit that is always looking for help. Starting or joining a club or chapter of an international club is also a great way to bring new ideas to your community. Hudson’s chapter of Generation Ratify, another youth-run organization is currently talking with the school administration at Hudson High about this exact issue. The best time to get involved is now. 

**At press time, the Generation Ratify group is scheduled to meet with Dr. Jason Medeiros to discuss implementing a plan today, April, 16.