The Menstrual Equity Act

Hannah Berkheimer , Staff Writer

On October 8, 2021, governor Gavin Newsom signed the Menstrual Equity Act, which requires public schools to provide free menstrual products in their bathrooms. Section 35292.6(a) of the California Education Code states that public schools that maintain “any combination of classes from grades 6 to 12, inclusive, shall stock the school’s restrooms at all times with an adequate supply of menstrual products, available and accessible, free of cost, in all women’s restrooms and all-gender restrooms, and in at least one men’s restroom.” Section 34292.6(c) requires that schools also put up a notice in every restroom about the new requirements with contact information for someone responsible for maintaining the supply of menstrual products. The bill specifies that it is referring to menstrual pads and tampons in Section 35292.6(d).

Section 35292.6(a) of the California Education Code states that the bathrooms must be stocked “on or before the start of the 2022-2023 school year.” Later, part e of this section reiterates, “This section shall become operative on July 1, 2022.” As of now, the school has not done this. However, in a meeting with the school’s Title IX coordinator, it was revealed that the school has ordered menstrual products in compliance with this law, but due to supply chain issues, they have not arrived yet. When the products arrive, it will push our school towards the direction of creating equity in education on campus.

The Menstrual Equity Act describes the access to menstrual products as a matter of equal opportunity. Section 1(b)(1) “recognizes that access to menstrual products is a basic human right” and necessary for health, dignity, and participation in public life. Furthermore, in Section 1(b)(4) the bill points to equity in education being required in the California Constitution.

Access to menstrual products is very much a question of equity. According to a survey conducted by the organization Free the Tampons, 86% of women have unexpectedly started their period without menstrual products. The survey found that 79% of women used toilet paper as a pseudo-pad, which is less effective and can be uncomfortable. After that, 62% of women immediately went to the store, but as the school has a closed campus, that is not possible for most students. Then 53% of women reported asking other women for menstrual products. This does work, though, if there are no other students in the bathroom or for a student who menstruates that uses the men’s restroom. The health tech office does carry menstrual products, but students are only allowed one a day, which is often not adequate.

The result is that 57% of women feel embarrassed, 50% feel annoyed, and 35% feel panicked. Another national study, sponsored by Thinx and conducted by Harris Insights and Analytics learned that two-thirds of teens feel stress as a result of not having menstrual products. The result is that menstruating students may have a difficult time focusing on school as they are more worried about not having menstrual products.

There is also the issue of students being unable to afford menstrual products. According to the United Nations Population Fund, period poverty is “the struggle many low-income women and girls face while trying to afford menstrual products.” The Thinx study found that 1 in 5 students nationally struggled to afford menstruation products and that due to period poverty, 4 in 5 teens have missed class time or know someone who has because of a lack of access to menstrual products. In total, 1 in 4 teens have missed class because they did not have menstrual products.

The core idea is that when male students go to a public bathroom, they have everything they need to take care of their bodily functions. For female students, this is not the case. 

Providing free menstrual products may even be in the schools best interest. A pilot program in New York city saw a 2.4% increase in attendance as soon as it began providing menstrual products for free. Section 1(b)(9) of the Menstrual Equity Act even claims that “expanding student access to menstrual products can also result in cost savings due to increased funding associated with student attendance.” This would be a result of the California Department of Education providing funds for various programs based on attendance.

Hopefully, the menstrual products will arrive soon so that the school can finally be in compliance with the school law, create a more equitable campus, and possibly boost attendance.