A local period poverty project in Columbia Public Schools (CPS) has become a state-wide phenomenon as students across the district advocate for the state capitol to consider a bill that would provide period products to students at no cost.
Shruti Gautam, student at Rock Bridge High School, started campaigning for the project in CPS after learning about the topic during her freshman year Civics class.
“Period Poverty was my topic, and I realized that this wasn’t just happening around the nation, but it was something happening locally,” Gautam said. “I felt like schools could be one of the first steps to giving girls access to the products they need.”
Gautam approached the school board in 2018 about the topic. Shortly after, she and Carla London, Chief Equity Officer, began to work on the project.
“We noticed there were some students who were missing school because they didn’t have the products they needed or felt embarrassed because they didn’t have the products,” London said.
CPS has always provided free menstrual products in the nurse’s office. However, London says that because it is a grant funded program, nurses will often have to ask questions before giving the products. Some of those questions could range from why a student doesn’t have the necessary products or whether a student will be able to bring the products next time. She says this could make a student feel embarrassed to ask for the resources they need.
London said they also noticed that the machines in the bathrooms still had the products, but that students didn’t want to pay.
“We realized that students were still in need of the products and so we decided to pilot a program where we stocked the bathrooms, with baskets full of products. As students used those products, we continued to restock them,” London said.
The project was first implemented in CPS in 2019. Originally, four girls, all of whom attended Rock Bridge and Hickman High School, kept track of all the products being used on a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet allowed the district to keep track of expenses and to see if the project would be sustainable in the long run.
Shortly after the project was implemented, students and administrators began to see the impacts.
“We realized that students were actually in need of these products because they were running out so often,” London said. “What was also interesting was students who could afford period products or just had a few left over, began restocking the products themselves when the products ran out.”
After seeing the impact it had on CPS, Gautam contacted state Rep. Martha Stevens, proposing that school districts across the state implement a similar policy to CPS.
Since then, Gautam and Stevens have been working to create the bill, also known as House Bill 1954, that was filed last month.
“The fact that families are struggling to provide these period products or missing school because they don’t have the products is a concern,” Stevens said. “I think we can step in as a state and fund a program to give these free products to students to make sure their education is not being compromised because the basic need is not being met.”
The bill would require public and charter schools to provide feminine hygiene products in their bathrooms at no charge to students. Four states, including California, New York, New Hampshire, and Illinois, have passed similar measures. Several other states have proposed similar bills as well.
Gillian Frazier, student and president of Girls Strong, a club that hopes to uplift women, says that while the fight to end period poverty is not over, the bill is a good first step.
“A period is a natural bodily function and unfortunately tampons and pads are pretty much considered a luxury item since they are so expensive. I think this bill is a good first step to ending period poverty and making menstrual products more accessible to students,” Frazier said.
To find more information about period poverty, go to period.org.