Council hears bill addressing period poverty

Camila Reinoso and Nina Fernandez

A bill to require free menstrual products in DC schools was introduced to the city council last spring. Called “Expanding Student Access to Period Products Act of 2021,” the bill extends to all DC public, public charter, and private schools, along with post-secondary institutions, to address “period poverty.”

Period poverty refers to the lack of access to menstrual products, education, hygiene facilities, waste management, or a combination of these, and it is an expansive issue in the US that can ultimately affect student attendance rates. “Lack of access to these products is something that can not only cause students to feel shame and stigma, but it also results in absences and therefore, decreased learning,” Vice President for Public Policy Litigation & Law at Planned Parenthood Federation of America Helene Krasnoff said in an interview. Data shows that close to 1 in 5 American girls have missed school due to a lack of access to period products. 

The bill, introduced by council member Brooke Pinto, requires distribution of free menstrual products to extend to gender neutral bathrooms, and in the absence of those, to at least one mens bathroom in elementary, middle, and high schools. Additionally, a medically accurate poster containing information provided by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education would be posted in the vicinity of all product dispensers. 

The legislature aims to not only address the accessibility of feminine hygiene products, but also initiate menstrual health education to be provided to students of all genders. “Barriers to reproductive health care fall hardest on those who face other barriers to care, such as communities of color, people with low incomes, and young people. This is true for so many issues, including access to period products,” says Krasnoff. The DC council bill would help to lower absences due to lack of period products and improve the disproportionate effect that period poverty has on students and families of color. 

Senior Sophia Hosford, who co-founded Wilson’s District FEM initiative with senior Rowan Lilly, is working towards providing menstrual products to those who need them, donating products to organizations like Catholic Charities and Thrive DC, as well as DCPS.

Hosford is a strong supporter of the bill, even testifying before the Council. “I believe that the bill will ease the process of obtaining period products while also taking away a major stressor—that is, buying these products—that students struggle with District-wide,” Hosford said.  

When it comes to menstrual education, several students testified that the curriculum is practically non-existent in DCPS as of now. 

           “Most of what I know did not come from what I was taught at school,” one student said.

Sophomore Parker Mcfarren added that “if kids don’t know how, or don’t have the resources to take care of their bodies, you can’t expect them to be able to learn at school.” 

           A majority of the council has signed in support of the bill, however for it to move forward, DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson needs to schedule a public hearing. •