Health & Wellness

Achieving Menstrual Equity in California

Reem Abdalla

Under a bill signed Friday Oct 8th by Gov. Gavin Newsom, all students in grades 6 to 12, community colleges, California State Colleges (CSU's) and the University of California systems (UC's) will have access to free menstrual products starting in the 2022-2023 school year.

For years, activists and advocates have brought attention to the phenomenon known as “tampon tax.” It doesn’t literally mean we pay special taxes for menstrual products, but it does mean women and menstruating folks pay a premium despite there being certain health and medical supplies that are tax-exempt in some states. Managing our period, if you do menstruate, is a critical aspect of our lives that should be seriously considered when writing state legislation. 

This bill is an organized move towards reproductive justice for young folks, as it explicitly states that:

California recognizes that access to menstrual products is a basic human right and is vital for ensuring the health, dignity, and full participation of all Californians in public life.

Where will menstrual products be available?

Schools will stock 50% of their bathrooms with pads and tampons. By promoting gender equity within the same bill, this means period products shouldn’t just be available for girls and young women. Transgender men, non-binary and gender queer folks may also menstruate and need access to these resources. 

An adequate supply of menstrual products should be available in all women’s and all gender restrooms, and in at least one men’s restroom, at all times. Pads and tampons should be in an obvious location and accompanied by written text with the email address and telephone number for the individual responsible for stocking up. 

The History Behind the Menstrual Equity for All Act

Young people are often told to take responsibility for their bodies, but without the accompanying education or resources. If you’ve ever experienced a period, then you know there is very little you can do once you see a tell tale red smudge in your underwear. You should be able to just reach for a pad, tampon, menstrual cup or whatever else you use and go on with your day. But that’s not always the case.

A study on period poverty showed that 1 in 10 female identifying students said they struggled to pay for menstrual products in the past month, and another 14% struggled to pay for them in the last year. There is a clear divide in how Americans access period necessities, and it is along the color line. Black and Latina women are more likely to report period poverty. To make matters more complicated, period poverty is correlated with depression and decreased attendance at school.

Students in predominantly low-income neighborhoods were the original targets for the Menstrual Equity for All Act in 2017 for this reason. Now we are building on those efforts to say all schools should provide their students with easy access, and it should be as simple as finding toilet paper in a restroom. 

It has been said that California has a history of passing laws that are later echoed throughout the country. Is this bill the future for menstrual equity in the US?

For motivated students:

Interested in furthering your own reproductive justice efforts? Wherever you are, no matter what school you attend, we are looking for passionate partners who can uplift our mission. Check out our Health Advocacy program for students in college and university here. 

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