VT students need better access to period products in school

As a high school senior, I understand the many challenges that being a girl in high school holds. Hard classes, first jobs, complex social dynamics and college applications. The stress of it all is hard enough without the added stress of periods. I know I’m not the only one who has bled through her pants or not been able to find a tampon when I really needed one. After advocating for period products to three different principals over three different years, free product dispensers were finally installed in my own school just this fall. Without strong legislation to enforce easy access to products, many schools have forgotten the importance of providing female bathrooms with these products.

Most girls begin to menstruate before high school, in middle or even elementary school. This means that almost all the girls entering high school are menstruating regularly and they will continue to do so until age 45 or 50. Most girls experience irregular period cycles for the first couple of years, varying in length, regularity and severity. As a taboo subject in our society, menstruation can seem daunting, especially when it is still new. When girls lack the necessary products to take care of themselves and their bodies, it can result in them missing out on their education. Throughout my years in middle and high school, I’ve known girls to miss between half a class and multiple school days because they feel uncomfortable or don’t have easy access to what they need, namely hygiene products. Even girls who usually provide their own products can forget to bring a tampon or pad on the days that they will need it, or start their period during a school day.

While most schools keep pads and tampons in the nurse’s office, some girls feel uncomfortable asking for products. It is important to acknowledge young women who consider menstruation a private issue and to respect their privacy by not making them ask each time they need a tampon or pad. Even for those who have the courage to ask, it takes time out of class for them to walk to the nurse, ask for a product, use the restroom and return to class. Periods are normal and young women shouldn’t feel embarrassed or have to miss out on their education, even if it’s just one class, because of them. No one should miss more than five minutes of class to use the restrooms; menstruating should be no different, especially due to lack of access to hygiene products.

Period poverty, the lack of resources, financial or otherwise, used for menstrual hygiene, is a very real phenomenon. When schools fail to provide adequate resources for their students, they are only contributing to the problem. Furthermore, students who experience period poverty outside of school can find solace in schools that provide sufficient feminine products during school hours. Additionally, all across the country, we see young girls not knowing how their bodies work and how to take care of them. Making sure that we are providing products, as well as education about periods, is an important step towards accounting for the health and safety of all our students.

A school’s job is to uphold the dignity of each student who walks through the doors. For so long, schools have been failing their young women in this way. Students should never be embarrassed or worried about going to school, especially due to a normal, biological process. When schools provide students with everything they need to be successful during their day at school, they help students realize their full potential.  If our young women are missing out on parts of their education due to a lack of period products, then they are prohibited from living up to their full potential.

Additionally, their male counterparts will never miss class or school for this reason. The more school young women miss because of their periods, the more disadvantaged they are compared to young men in their classes. These types of gender inequities should be accounted for, especially in education where women for so long weren’t welcome. We need to make sure that our young women feel supported and comfortable. Middle and high school are very formative times for all adolescents. Using this time to make sure that young girls feel supported is an important way to make sure they can be confident and successful for the rest of their lives. That starts with making sure they aren’t afraid or uncomfortable in educational settings. When schools don’t provide these products, our education system is no longer equal opportunity like it claims to be; it favors those who don’t menstruate, namely boys, who will never miss class because they couldn’t find a tampon, or bled through their pants.

Investing in period products isn’t just an investment in pads and tampons, it’s an investment in the education, knowledge and lives of our young people. Students like me shouldn’t have to advocate for our right to period products. Schools providing them should be the rule, not the exception. I recently contacted two dozen Vermont legislators hoping to bring this issue to their attention. Out of the 24 I contacted, only two responded. Many of our legislators have been busy with the unfortunate flooding many of our communities experienced over the summer. However, that doesn’t minimize the things young women in our schools experience every single day. This has gone on for decades across the country, and it is time that we rectify the situation.

Please do what you can to support these initiatives in your communities and across our state. Make sure the young women in your communities have access to what they need in their middle and high schools. Urge your legislators to support changes to the statutes that currently leave too much wiggle room for schools and districts to avoid putting resources toward pads and tampons for their students.

Finally, find ways to open up conversations with your daughters and other young women about periods and what kind of access they have to menstrual products at school. Make sure that they know they don’t have to feel uncomfortable and can advocate for themselves. The more we talk about these topics, the less stigma they carry, leading more young women to be able to advocate for what they need, and more teachers, administrators and parents to begin to realize what we need.

(Grace Marroquin of South Burlington is a senior at Rice Memorial High School.)