PERIOD
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PERIOD

Advice from a Period Equity Activist: How to Get Free Period Products in your School’s Bathrooms.

Image by Lluvia Moreno

Society has trained us to treat periods as a private matter that is not to be discussed in public. I remember in middle school, asking my friends in the hallway with a low whisper to check whether I had bled through the back of my pants because heaven-forbid if anyone else heard that I was on my period. That stigma stuck around in my head for a while. Gross, disgusting, TMI — these are often the words that come to mind when we think about societal depictions of menstruation. These words and the stigma that follows create a culture in which menstruators feel they must hide this essential part of their biology when they are in the presence of other people.

When I first decided to publicly advocate for free period products in school bathrooms, I was incredibly nervous. I started sharing posts about menstruation on my Instagram story, and I thought, what if people think I’m weird for talking about periods? Are they even going to see period poverty as a serious issue? Eventually, I realized that the whole point of publicly drawing attention to periods is to alleviate the stigma and normalize the conversation. My worries soon went away.

In 2020, I started The Period Equity Project, a local initiative to make period products more equitable in schools. With over $30,000 in funding, the Project establishes a pilot program that requires three high schools in San Mateo County to stock their girls’ and gender-neutral bathrooms with free period product dispensers.

California has also made massive strides in the menstrual movement. In October of 2021, Governor Newsom signed AB 367, or the Menstrual Equity for All Act, authored by Assembly Member Cristina Garcia in California. This law will require all 6–12 public schools in the state to stock their bathrooms with free period products by this upcoming school year. CSU’s and CCC’s will also be required to do the same, but private schools and the UC system are only encouraged to follow suit. This is why many activists and leaders within the AB 367 coalition are working to fight for policy solutions and recommendations for private institutions and the UC. The exemption in this law also inspired me to expand the Period Project to my own university, UC Santa Cruz.

It has been a long and fruitful journey that I’m still on and still learning from. In my reflection, I hope to share some advice and maybe inspire you to join the menstrual movement. Here are five lessons I’ve learned in my advocacy for free period products in schools.

1. Come with solutions, not problems.

If you are going to introduce an issue to a person in a position of power, it is important to come prepared with solutions. In the beginning stages of the Project, when I was still pitching the initiative to different people in the community, many of them asked how I wanted to proceed. It was imperative to come up with cost estimates, funding sources, potential partners, and a plan to measure success. When it comes to increasing access to period products in schools, having a plan will help incentivize people to invest in the initiative.

2. Get personal.

Sharing personal stories of menstruators who have been impacted by the lack of access to period products was essential in making the Project happen. I genuinely believe that the stories of my peers were the reason stakeholders decided to invest in the initiative. Testimonials can make your proposal ten times more impactful. Personal experiences are much more powerful than statistics because they allow us to connect with one another on a more human level.

3. Baby steps are still progress.

An important lesson I learned in my advocacy is that people in positions of power often want to help, but their hands are sometimes tied, whether it be fiscally or otherwise. Be open to compromise. At the time, it was a dream to get all schools in my county to stock their bathrooms with free period products, but that was a big ask financially and logistically for a county that’s never done it before. We decided to start with a two-year pilot program involving 3 high schools, which would then be evaluated through the Project’s impact. Afterward, we would decide how to expand the Project to other parts of the county. That’s a start that leaves room for growth. With that being said, the passing of AB 367 changed the final trajectory of the Project in San Mateo County, but it still speaks to the larger idea that local work can still make an impact.

4. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help.

In your advocacy, if there is something you do not know how to do, that is completely okay. The people you talk to will most likely not expect you to know everything. I didn’t know how to write a grant proposal or who to reach out to in my county when I first started the Project. The first call was to my mentor, who gave me some contacts to connect with. At the end of each call I made, I would ask for advice on who else to call. After about 15 calls, I formed the team that would help make the Project come to life. All that to say, asking people around you for advice can go a long way.

5. Imposter Syndrome is real.

At the beginning of my journey as a period equity activist, there were countless times I thought in my head right before I’d make a call to someone in the county, why on earth would this person listen to a teenager? If you start doubting yourself, remember that your voice matters, your experience matters, and this issue matters.

My journey as a period equity activist did not start too long ago. If I have one major takeaway from this experience, it would be that there are multiple avenues to fighting the stigma around menstruation, and it is not easy. But it can be done. It is possible to change the culture of period shame and silence in current and future generations. And it starts with you. Let’s fight in the menstrual movement together.

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