By Student Activist Rebecca Stern
My first introduction to menstrual equity came in the form of an Instagram Story. In fact, it was a fellow Aunt Flow Student Advocate and blog contributor, Georgia Evans, that brought it to my screen with her pictures in front of the Aunt Flow machines she successfully advocated her. Like Georgia, I was the president of my school’s Girl Up club. When I brought up the idea of advocating for free menstrual products in our bathrooms, we were all hooked.
The idea of menstrual inequity had come up in conversation before with my classmates. Many of us had experienced that unfortunate moment when our periods came at the most inconvenient time. From panicked looks across bus aisles and whisper down the lane of, “do you have a tampon?” on the way back from my 8th grade Washington D.C. trip, with my stash stored out of reach in my suitcase below, to recklessly speeding through Keystone Exams so I could run to my locker and grab a tampon without having to explain the situation to my teacher, have defined my relationship with access to menstrual products. I must be prepared with an arsenal of products for any of my or my fellow menstruators needs at all times. If I don’t, then the consequences are missing class or humiliation. My classmates agreed that access to menstrual products should be equal to access to toilet paper, but it was a theoretical discussion, lacking actionable steps.
This time was different. After I signed up to be an Aunt Flow Student Advocate, I was given countless resources: one-pagers, budget estimates, and unparalleled support from the team (shoutout to Danielle and Dan). When I spoke with my principal and had a subsequent meeting with a district representative, we received a, “yes” above and beyond our initial ask, which was two bathrooms. They wanted to have menstrual products provided in all female and gender-neutral high school and middle school bathrooms. I was thrilled, until it began to stall with the ever-present issue: money.
The bid process never moved forward, coronavirus happened, and we were stuck. Eventually, I was told to propose my menstrual equity initiative to the Great Valley Education Foundation, of which I am the senior class student representative to. They were interested, but couldn’t move forward for the time being. I had national data, but I needed specific data on our school. I worked with my club sponsor, Mrs. Druckenmiller, and the National Honor Society teacher advisor(who taught me how to use Excel) on data collection. I created a survey modeled after “State of the Period” by Harris Insights and Analytics: “State of the Period at Great Valley High School”. I utilized the officers and social media to get 79 responses, making our results statistically significant. It was one of the most eye-opening experiences I have ever had. From reading about non-binary student’s dysphoria to hearing how even asking these questions helped privileged students become passionate about fighting period poverty, I was able to see how menstrual inequity impacted my peers, their self-worth, and their education.
I live in a privileged school district, with only 13% of students on Free and Reduced Lunch. I am able to advocate to my school administration to provide access to those 13% of students who may not be able to afford period products, or to students who get cut in that sticky situation without a pad or tampon. We have the resources to fight these problems, and we need to. I wrote up the report and a presentation, and I am meeting with my principal about putting our plans with Aunt Flow into action. However, period poverty is a much larger issue that all schools need to address.
My Girl Up club met with our representatives, advocating for specific bills, like the Menstrual Equity for All Act, as well as raising awareness of the issue. We were told our representative supported the idea, but needed data for her district to become an official co-sponsor if the bill is re-introduced. I am now working on expanding the survey to collect data on high schools in her district and across PA so student advocates and Girl Up clubs will have the data they need to effectively advocate for creating menstrual equity and ending period poverty in schools.
While I currently speed walk through hallways, armed with a weapon that wards off almost all teenage boys within a five-foot radius, tampons, I know that we are so close to creating an environment with Aunt Flow where periods are respected and provided for by schools, not students. One day, I hope to see an Aunt Flow dispenser in every public bathroom I walk into: an important step in creating a world where menstruation is not stigmatized, and tampons are not stuffed up sweatshirt sleeves.