‘As fundamental as toilet paper’: Behind the movement to provide period products in Utah schools

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – The Policy Project has been lobbying for menstrual equity since 2018, taking on issues such as lack of access to period products and the high cost associated with these supplies. The local nonpartisan group was successful in ending Utah sales tax incurred by menstrual products as part of an overarching tax reform bill passed in January 2020. After significant public displeasure, though, the bill was overturned.

The Policy Project team wasn’t deterred, however, and now they’re back with a new mission: providing free period products in Utah schools.

“Access to menstrual products is so fundamental; we would argue as fundamental, or even more fundamental, than toilet paper,” says Emily Bell McCormick, founder of The Policy Project. “If you’re not able to access a menstrual product, it limits all of your activities.”

This holds especially true for school-aged girls who are just beginning to menstruate. According to a national study, 68% of girls have missed school due to lack of access to period supplies. As it stands, if girls can’t supply their own period products, their only option is to ask for supplies at the school office. For young girls especially, they can feel ashamed, and having to ask might deter them from getting the help they need. And though school offices often stock these necessities, accorded to Policy Project Board Member Mary Catherine Perry, they aren’t required to.

“We would absolutely never say, ‘Hey, if you need to go number two, we just need you to stop at the office really fast, get some toilet paper, so that everybody knows that you need to go number two, and then you can go to the bathroom and go,’” she says. “But we do that with menstrual products right now. We’ve just become accustomed to something that is wrong and backwards.”

Bringing period supplies to school may not be an option for some girls, either. Pads and tampons are expensive and girls from lower income homes may be unable to afford them. Most menstruation starts by age 13, with some girls having their first period as early as age 7. And if a caregiver can’t purchase supplies for younger girls, they don’t have many options.

“This is way, way before they are even legally allowed to have a job,” says McCormick. “We ask them to care for something that they’re not able to provide for on their own.”

The Policy Project hopes to change this. Their plan would involve installing period supply dispensers in Utah public school bathrooms. Private donors would fund the dispensers, while Utah state legislature would be asked to appropriate funds to purchase the products to fill the dispensers. According to Perry, the total government cost would land between 3.5 and 4.5 million dollars.  

“In the grand scheme of public education, it’s a very small price tag for a huge impact,” she says. “Every girl bleeds, the impact is huge.”

But the work doesn’t stop after the dispensers are installed. The next step for The Policy Project is to tackle elements of women’s health education, starting with teaching girls about proper usage of period products.

“They may have access to the product, but we need to make sure they know how to use it.” McCormick says.

If the current proposal passes, educational materials will be distributed with the period products, Perry and McCormick say.

The Policy Project is holding a press conference on Wednesday, November 17 at the Utah State Capitol where they will announce upcoming changes to legislation surround menstrual equity, as well as new information related to private donors who are committed to funding the project. This story will be updated as more details become available.

The Policy Project’s movement appears to have garnered backing from several Utah government representatives, too. Both Lieutenant Governor Dierdre Henderson and Representative Karianne Lisonbee are slated to speak alongside Policy Project board member Kristin Andrus and Neylan McBaine, founder of local women’s rights organization Better Days 2020, at the press event.

“This is a real opportunity for Utah to lead,” McCormick says. “To have a mandate in schools and also the legislative funding to support it is an opportunity for Utah to show that they value keeping all students in school.”

You can find more information on The Policy Project in the post below.

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