Menstrual products in school bathrooms

September 29, 2020 6:08 PM

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One person hands a menstrual pad to another in the bathroom. Photo courtesy of Annika Gordon via Unsplash.

One person hands a menstrual pad to another in the bathroom. Photo courtesy of Annika Gordon via Unsplash.

Dear Mayor Marty Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker, 

My name is Bendu David. I am 18 years old and a freshman at University of Massachusetts Boston, and I have lived in Boston my entire life. I would first like to start by acknowledging your efforts, Mayor Walsh, to push for the free menstrual products pilot project, implementing that menstrual products be distributed to school nurses so that students may request them. I would also like to acknowledge Governor Baker for the bill making its way through the Massachusetts State House that would require schools to provide free disposable menstrual products to students. However, my motive for writing this letter is to urge the passing of this bill and express that menstrual products need to be implemented outside of just the nurses office and into the bathrooms. 

Most school bathrooms in Boston Public Schools do not have free menstrual products or menstrual product dispensers and this needs to be addressed. I urge you, Mayor Walsh, to add on to the money included in the initial pilot program and/or to reform the program in order to push for menstrual products to be available in all Boston Public School bathrooms. Menstrual products should be considered mandatory and supplied in all bathrooms — girls’/boys’, women’s/men’s and gender neutral. Menstrual products are a necessity, not a luxury and should be treated as such. 

I believe it’s important to note that menstrual products are seen widely in society as a luxury when in reality — they are a necessity. Like toilet tissue and soap in school bathrooms, menstrual products should be available for use. In my 18 years of attending Boston public schools, there have never been menstrual products available in school bathrooms. I didn’t realize this was a problem until getting into high school and seeing the Feminist Club advocating for them to be available. My cousin graduated from Boston Latin Academy in 2014, and even then she was not provided menstrual products in the school bathrooms when she attended a Boston public school. So why after all these years do school bathrooms still not provide menstrual products free of charge to its students?

Only three states in the United States require schools that serve students between grades six through 12 to provide menstrual products in women’s restrooms. Brookline High School students spearheaded an initiative to push for menstrual products to be available in all restrooms. But unlike neighboring cities, the city of Boston does not provide access to these products for its students in school bathrooms. So what are students who do not live in these cities or states where their bathrooms provide them with menstrual products doing? We have to go to the nurse’s office to request a pad or a tampon. Students are leaving class with their backpacks to go to the restroom, they’re asking friends to meet up with them if they don’t have any themselves, or they’re leaving school early. And even still, when a student who is in need of the restroom and asks to go, often even describing it as an emergency, they are denied permission. They’re sometimes even told to leave their backpacks in the classroom. So what are they to do? 

Periods, for everyone, cannot be calculated. Therefore it is not always guaranteed that a young person has a pad or a tampon on them. So when their only options are phoning a friend or going to the nurses’ office, the clear option is a friend because they are more comfortable with a friend and are more guaranteed to receive the product they need. Nurses often question a student coming into the office asking for a menstrual product. Sometimes making the claim that they cannot give the student the product they need unless their paperwork is registered or their parent or guardian is called. I must also note that the process of getting permission to go to the nurse's office in itself is a hassle. A student needs to ask the teacher or substitute teacher for a pass and explain the reason for them needing to leave class, often being told they can or should wait until the end of the period even after being interrogated. When the emergency is your period, it cannot wait.

Ultimately, educational time is being missed simply because school bathrooms do not provide this necessity. Having to jump through all these different loops simply for menstrual care can be both uncomfortable and traumatizing to a student, especially those of younger ages. City Council finance chair Ferreras-Copeland of New York City stated, “The minute you have to ask someone for something that you need for your normal bodily function, you’re creating a barrier. This is something you shouldn’t have to ask for.” 

Individuals in the United States fail to realize that period poverty is a real issue here. Nearly one in five American girls have either left school early or missed a day all together due to a lack of menstrual products. This can be decreased once school bathrooms provide menstrual products free of charge to their students. I urge you to understand this issue and expect to see a change in the coming years.


Bendu David
UMASS Boston

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