Students in low income communities often have difficulty obtaining menstrual hygiene products and end up relying on products available in schools. California Assembly Bill No. 10 (AB-10) requires all Title 1 schools, those schools that meet a 40% student poverty threshold, to provide free menstrual products in 50% of the school’s bathrooms. This bill, which was signed into law by the Governor in October 2017, was created by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia from California’s 58th Assembly District.
Garcia first developed an interest in menstrual equity issues when she heard from young women that they regularly missed school because they lacked the products to manage their periods. This was a problem that Garcia had experienced as a teacher. “There’s a real need, and this is a real problem. When I was a teacher, I always had a box of menstrual products that was there,” Garcia said. She let students take whatever menstrual products they needed, and when she became a state assembly member, she wanted to do more. With AB-10, Garcia has made free menstrual products available to students throughout California.
Because of the pandemic, however, many students have now lost access to these products. Due to the school closures caused by COVID-19, many families struggling financially are in need of extra support. To help, many school districts have opened food distribution centers, which provide meals to students who need them. However, it has become clear that families need more than just food. “If you can’t afford food, then you can’t afford other essentials,” Garcia said. The school closures also mean that many students have now lost access to a reliable source of menstrual supplies.
In Northern California, students from Girls Learn International (GLI) are working on this problem. After school closures went into effect, Sophie, a GLI student at Sequoia High School, worked with her school to distribute their stockpile of menstrual products at the school’s food distribution center. GLI student Netra said, “We realized that due to the pandemic, girls and women would have restricted access to feminine hygiene products, and we decided to launch the Campaign for Menstrual Equity.”
The Campaign for Menstrual Equity (CME) aims to provide free menstrual products to students, destigmatize menstruation, and advocate for legislation to make menstrual products more affordable. CME has partnered with Ravenswood Health Center, Ecumenical Hunger Program, and the Alameda County Health Care for the Homeless to help fulfill their Amazon wishlists. CME also contacted local school districts to encourage them to distribute existing stockpiles of menstrual products at food distribution sites. So far, they have partnered with San Jose Unified School District and the Stockton Unified School District, and they are hoping to expand their work to other districts soon.
In Southern California, GLI and The Pad Project are working together to support students and families in local school districts with the Pads for Schools initiative. The Pad Project originally grew out of the Oakwood School’s chapter of GLI, and the organizations have worked closely together for the last seven years. Since Pads for Schools aims to ensure students can access menstrual products during the pandemic, The Pad Project and GLI have created an Amazon wishlist for Santa Ana Unified School District. Donors can purchase menstrual products from the list, and each item is sent directly to SAUSD to support students and families in need.
So far, more than $1,600 worth of menstrual products have been donated to SAUSD, and The Pad Project and GLI plan to continue working to support students and families in the district. Moving forward, The Pad Project and GLI hope to expand the Pads for Schools initiative to include more Southern California school districts in order to reach more students and families in need. Menstrual products are a necessity, not a luxury. As Garcia said, “All people really need is a reminder.”
To learn more about the work of The Pad Project, Girls Learn International, the Campaign for Menstrual Equity, Pads for Schools, and Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, visit their websites.
*The Pad Project has no political affiliation and does not endorse any of the individuals listed in this article.
Story written by Rachel Wilson.