UC Davis students have launched a pilot program to make free menstrual products available to all students.
The university chapter of Period, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free menstrual care products, aims to stock all women’s, men’s and gender-neutral bathrooms on campus soon.
For now, a grant funded through the Student Health and Counseling Services helps 24 volunteers take turns restocking nine bathrooms in five university buildings each week.
Annie Wang, president of the UC Davis Period chapter, said starting the program took on urgency when she learned that UC Davis was in the process of removing its coin-operated menstrual product dispensers from restrooms because of the high operating costs.
“Our bodies shouldn’t be barriers to success,” Wang said. “Providing access to menstrual hygiene products is a matter of equal opportunity education. … We’re not asking for special treatment or luxury. We’re just asking to be able to be as comfortable as someone who doesn’t menstruate and have access to all the basic hygiene necessities in order to do so.”
Wang said that during her first year at UC Davis, her period began while she was sitting through a lecture, and the nearest resource center with free menstrual products was across campus. So Wang said she chose to sit through the rest of class so she wouldn’t miss it, and deal with the consequences.
It was only after she discussed her dilemma with others, she said, that she realized free, accessible pads and tampons were a concern that many women on campus faced. In January 2018, members of the club met with school officials to discuss the need for free menstrual products across the campus.
“We’re very interested in this project developed by the students and we’re looking forward to seeing the results of the pilot program and working with them on next steps,” said Sheri Atkinson, associate vice chancellor for student affairs.
The club was met with great interest from other students, giving Wang the help she needed to start the pilot program in May as part of a national campaign called United for Access from Period and Thinx, which manufactures period-proof underwear.
Harvard student Nadya Okamoto co-founded Period after being homeless and realizing that access to menstrual products is difficult for those in need. There are currently more than 200 chapters, mostly on college campuses.
Menstrual products are a $3 billion industry in the U.S., according to Nielsen, a data consumer research company. The average woman will spend about $400 on pads and $1,800 on tampons in her lifetime.
“Period poverty impacts a huge number of students in the U.S.,” said Laura Blackburn, giveback manager at Thinx.
The Period chapter at UC Davis purchased 10,000 pads and 7,500 tampons for the the fall quarter. Wang said that an average of 31 pads and tampons are taken each day. There are 18,000 female undergraduate students alone.
California passed a new law in 2017 that requires middle and high schools where at least 40 percent of students meet the federal poverty threshold to stock half their campus restrooms with free menstrual products.
While the new law has helped with access for younger students, organizations like Period and Thinx say more needs to be done.
“These are not luxury products,” said Blackburn. “You walk into a restroom and you expect there to be toilet paper. We expect that it’s free, especially for our students, so we should look at the other basic biological function that affects half of our population and address that as well.”
Story by Sawsan Morrar
The Sacramento Bee (Tribune News Service)