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Arizona needs your help getting free period products in schools

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at ASU chapter.

I can’t speak for all women, but I remember the first time my period decided to happen during class — it was traumatic.

I went to a very small, classical school. Everyone had to wear uniforms, and I was in this ugly, white pleated skirt with purple and yellow plaid. Toward the end of my morning math class, I was called to the board to solve an equation. As I walked back to my seat, one of my classmates looked at me in horror, pointed at me and said, “Oh my god! You’re bleeding through your skirt!” 

Obviously, I was mortified. Luckily, I had a jacket that I was able to tie around my waist, covering up the crime scene. But I had no idea that my period was going to start that day, so I didn’t have any period products with me. In between classes, I ran to the restroom and did something a lot of girls are unfortunately familiar with. I made a makeshift pad. That wad of toilet paper did not last long. I was terrified that I would eventually get up from my seat again looking like Carrie at prom. I ended up calling my mom and going home feeling awful.

The women’s restrooms at my junior high and high school did not have period product dispensers. Even if they had, most cost money, and I don’t regularly carry quarters on me.

Currently, 16 states have passed legislation to ensure students who menstruate have free access to period products while in school, according to Alliance for Period Supplies. Arizona is not one of them.

Senate Bill 1675, sponsored by Arizona State Senator Mitzi Epstein, requires all district and charter schools serving students in grades 6-12 to provide period products in all women and gender-neutral bathrooms free of charge. It would give the Arizona Department of Education $1 million in funding to do so, according to the Arizona State Legislature.

You should care about menstrual equity for students and support SB1675. Providing students access to menstrual hygiene products in schools through SB1675 would reduce period poverty, enable all students to attend class and eliminate the health ramifications that result from not having enough or any period supplies.

Growing period poverty in the U.S.

Did you know one in four students who menstruate experienced period poverty in 2021? That’s up from one in five in 2019, according to The State of the Period, which is the only publicly available study tracking period poverty among U.S. teenage students. Over 1,000 students who menstruate, ages 13 to 19, were surveyed.

Period poverty is the inability to access menstrual hygiene products. Students of color, low-income students, and rural students are most impacted by issues of access.

The State of the Period study found that: 16% of students have chosen to buy period products over food or clothes, 51% have worn period products for longer than recommended, three in five say they rarely or never find free period products in school or public bathrooms and 85% agree that public schools should provide free period products.

Lack of access to period products is a critical issue students face, an issue that 76% of students say isn’t discussed enough. No student should be unable to get the basic necessities they require.

Period-related school absences 

I’ve gone home and skipped class multiple times because of my period. Most of my friends have too. 

This shouldn’t be surprising because more than four in five students in the U.S. have either missed class time or know someone who missed class time because they did not have access to period products, according to the National Education Association.

During the committee on education hearing for SB1675, Demetra Presley, executive director of Go With The Flow, a nonprofit that provides free period products to schools in Arizona, spoke about the consequences that result when periods disrupt class attendance.

“A lack of access to period products directly affects the quality of education received,” she said. “When students miss portions of school or full days of classroom time from not having immediate access to products at school, not only are they being excluded from the fundamental basic of receiving an education, they’re also missing crucial time interacting with their teachers and peers, being able to participate and be engaged in classroom activities and discussions, and receive guidance and mentoring.”

If we work together to advocate for funding to make period products available for free in all schools, then no student has to miss out on valuable learning for lack of a basic necessity.

Health risks from overusing or improvising period products

Approximately 86% of women have started their period unexpectedly in public without the supplies they need, according to a study conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Free The Tampon Foundation. More than 1,000 U.S. women aged 18 and older participated in the survey.

About eight in 10 of these women improvised with toilet paper or something else, and 62% went immediately to the store to buy supplies, which is not an option for most middle and high school students. One in three women went immediately home. In these situations, these women reported feeling embarrassed, annoyed, anxious and panicked.

Without adequate access to period products, women may resort to using their products for too long or improvising with unsafe items, both of which can have serious health ramifications. For example, women can develop toxic shock syndrome, a life-threatening complication of certain types of bacterial infections, from extended use of period products, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Free menstrual hygiene products in school bathrooms would provide a safe place to access the product without the embarrassment of carrying it around, alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety of not having products, and quickly allow students to get the products they need and go right back to class. They would not have to resort to dangerous methods to stop their bleeding.

Arguments against free period products in schools

Those opposed to bringing free period products to Arizona public middle schools and high schools say that these products are already offered to students free of charge, that is if they go to the nurse’s office and ask for them.

Two Republican members of the Senate Education Committee, Sine Kerr and Justine Wadsack, voted against SB1675, claiming that period products are already available at schools, so the bill would be providing for an unnecessary expense.

However, not all Arizona schools always have a nurse on site because of an ongoing shortage, according to AZ Central. This also isn’t the quickest or most ideal solution when in a rush, nor is it very discreet. Students may inquire why their peers are making trips to and from the nurse’s office when they’re not sick. In addition, not every student is comfortable asking their teacher, especially one who is male, if they can go to the nurse’s office for a pad or tampon. 

School budget restrictions also do not typically allot for an adequate supply of menstrual hygiene products to students. As a result, the limited supplies available are often provided at the expense of school staff. This is why schools across Arizona have had to depend on menstrual product donations from organizations like Go With The Flow

Having period products in school bathrooms is necessary to help students who otherwise struggle to access them, would eliminate barriers for students to come to class and would reduce the need to overuse or improvise period products, thus eliminating potential health consequences. 

How you can help

On Feb. 15, SB1675 was passed by the Senate Education Committee and will be heard next in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Although we are one step closer to getting free period products to Arizona students, help is needed to get SB1675 passed and sent to the floor for a vote. It’s time to contact your representatives.

I encourage you to email or call the following representatives, urging them to support SB1675:

You may use the following sample message, suggested by Generation Ratify Arizona:

“Hello. My name is [first name]. I am urging Senator [name] LD# to support SB1675, which requires Arizona schools to provide period products to students grades 6-12. Help bring period equity to Arizona, and show your support for SB1675.”

You may also digitally sign Go With The Flow’s petition calling for free menstrual products in schools. 

Girls shouldn’t have to choose between their education and their menstrual cycle. Period.

Ashlyn Robinette is an Arizona State University and Her Campus ASU alumnus. She received her B.A. in journalism and mass communication with a minor in digital audiences from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Barrett, The Honors College.