Young women in public schools across Virginia might have easier access to menstrual supplies soon.
A bill from Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) aims to make menstrual supplies, such as tampons and pads, available to students at all times in public school bathrooms. These supplies would be available at no cost to students enrolled in fifth through 12th grade.
“Girls have periods and that’s okay,” Boysko said. “People should understand it’s a part of life.”
The bill passed through the Virginia Senate in January and passed through the Committee on Education on Wednesday, according to Virginia’s Legislative Information System.
York County School Division and Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools said they would comply when it becomes law.
“The York County School Division recognizes the needs that may occur for students in regards to various personal hygiene products and currently offers products in our school clinics,” Katherine Goff, spokeswoman for the district, wrote in an email.
Eileen Cox, spokeswoman for WJCC, said the school district also provides products in clinics and supports the health and wellness of female students.
Both districts provide the products to students for free.
Boysko said she has been active in the menstrual equity sphere for a number of years and found the topic of supplies in school to be close to her heart.
“I can remember being a preteen and being horrified when I got my period in fifth grade,” she said. “Having products available in the bathroom relieves that embarrassment.”
While most schools offer the products for students in the nurses’ offices, Boysko said it can still cause anxiety and embarrassment for a young menstruating student to have to consistently ask for a pass to see the nurse.
According to the “State of the Period” study from Thinx and PERIOD, a majority of teens reported feeling shame or embarrassment about their periods which makes the school day more difficult when they’re menstruating.
“So students, which includes young girls and trans youth, have to navigate complex barriers to access menstrual supplies,” said Shaheen Khurana, an advocate with Virginia Menstrual Equity Coalition. “This can lead to absence from school, missed instruction, stained clothing [and more].”
Not only does this bill hope to eliminate the awkward barriers between students and accessing necessary products, but it aims to provide more resources for young women that can’t afford the products to begin with.
For example, the State of the Period study showed one in five teens have difficulty in affording menstrual products which can relate to poor health care practices, such as wearing a tampon or pad for longer than recommended.
But the bill still brings forward the question: why is menstruation still something that needs to be addressed?
“I think that people who are in decision-making positions have primarily been people who don’t menstruate,” Boysko said. “And as we have a more diverse group of leaders with different experiences, like women, these things come to the forefront because we’ve lived it.”
The concept of accessibility in menstrual products is a crucial component to the overall women’s empowerment movement, Khurana added, and this means also addressing the menstrual equity as a whole.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, access to these products is an equity issue because people across the country suffer from lack of access because of government policies that impose sales taxes or exempt menstrual products from public health programs.
Khurana said part of the issue when discussing the bill is considering the cost it would add to a school district but there are creative solutions, such as donations and working with nonprofits, that would address the problem.
Most importantly, she said the bill will help people understand menstruation products as a topic that needs to be normalized.
“We look at it from a perspective of having your periods of menstruation as a physical necessity,” Khurana said. “No one asks how much you spend on toilet paper, so why would you ask that for menstrual products.”