Viewpoints

Menstrual products are a basic necessity for girls in school. Let’s act like it

With the rights of women and girls under attack in many states, we are fortunate in California to have a governor who is willing to take action to expand our rights. For example, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently recently announced a plan to end the sales tax on tampons. This was an important and overdue step to recognize that menstrual products are necessities, not luxury items.

But there’s another step that is overdue: California should require that school bathrooms stock free pads and tampons.

I am a senior in high school. Girls in school need access to free menstrual products because, without them, they can lose class time, suffer embarrassment or experience unnecessary economic hardship.

A national national study of women in the United States showed that 86 percent of women have started their period unexpectedly without the supplies they need. Many girls at school feel uncomfortable going to the office to ask for a tampon – if the office even stocks them – or even asking their peers for supplies. If you’re stuck in the bathroom without supplies, you’ve got two bad options: go to class and bleed through your clothes – which is humiliating – or ditch school and find a tampon somewhere.

Opinion

It’s widely agreed upon that school bathrooms need to stock products like toilet paper, soap and paper towels. Menstrual products are no less important.

We don’t always have products with us. Even if we come to school completely prepared, our access is still limited to our bags. A girl could leave class to go to the bathroom and discover she’s on her period, and then have to return to class to grab her bag and again go back to the bathroom. Most teachers don’t let their students do this, and certainly not without an explanation.

California law currently requires than any secondary school in California that meets the “40 percent pupil poverty threshold” stock half its bathrooms with free pads and tampons. However, there are still many students for whom this is a financial burden at schools that don’t meet that threshold. But the financial burden is only one of the reasons these products need to be more accessible.

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I know it can be done because we’ve done it in Berkeley.

First, my principal agreed to put free pads and tampons in the girls’ bathrooms at Berkeley High School. Then I worked with the Berkeley Unified School Board to pass a policy requiring free menstrual products in girls bathrooms at all schools in the district.

When I was working on the policy, some concerns were raised. People were worried the products might get stolen or be too expensive to stock. Our experience in Berkeley has not been reflective of these concerns. We haven’t had any issues with stolen products. As for cost, I note that nobody ever challenges the price tag for toilet paper in a school district budget. But the costs are not exorbitant in any event. In my district, it cost about $5,000 to install dispensers in every school, and under $10,000 a year to keep them stocked.

Nationally and internationally, people are starting to wake up to the fact that women have the right to accessible menstrual products. For school-aged girls, there’s a simple solution. Stock school bathrooms with free pads and tampons. This will remove a barrier to learning for millions of girls statewide. Let’s show other states what it really means to protect the rights of women and girls.

Rachel Alper is a senior at Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California.
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