HARTFORD, CT – Toilet paper and soap in middle and high school bathrooms don’t cost students money, so why should feminine hygiene products? Student activists don’t believe they should have to pay for menstruating.
That’s why they are supporting legislation that would make tampons and maxi-pads free in every middle and high school bathroom in the state.
Lizabeth Bamgboye of Hamden said the topic of menstruation is often thought of as “taboo.”
“No one wants to talk about pads or periods or even bleeding,” she said. “It’s this same sentiment that ignores and suppresses the voices and lives of menstruators across Connecticut.”
School administrators wonder who is going to pay for the cost of the products to be in all the bathrooms.
The Connecticut Association of School Business Officials said they want the Public Health Committee, which was hearing the bill Wednesday, to know “that most schools freely dispense feminine hygiene products from their nurses’ offices. School nurses also supervise distribution and provide, discreetly, important information for appropriate use. This process also avoids overuse, clogging, theft and other vandalism that could occur in student bathrooms.”
Sen. Mary Abrams, D-Meriden, said dispensing them in the school nurse’s office makes it seem like it’s some type of illness or medical need “when it’s just a biological function.”
She said they don’t ask students to go to the nurse’s office to get toilet paper or to get soap to wash their hands.
“Although that’s the way a lot of schools have handled it, it’s time for a change,” Abrams said.
Mariam Khan, a Hamden student who is also the lead organizer of the Connecticut Period Team, said at her school there was a fee. She said schools have to realize students don’t pay for Band-Aids and they don’t pay for other things.
“You need to change the culture around it,” Khan said. “You shouldn’t need to go to the nurse’s office to get a pad or a tampon. You should have it in the bathroom. It’s a regular bodily need.”
Derby Superintendent Matt Conway said in written testimony that “simply mandating schools to do it, would be financially irresponsible as the additional cost of the program would be funded by eliminating other programs in schools.”
“For every 1,000 students needing these products the cost would be approximately $45,000 over 9 months,” Conway said. “This is an unrealistic cost to ask schools to absorb without providing additional funding specific for this program.”
Sen. Alex Bergstein, D-Greenwich, said initial estimates were that it would be $2.50 per student and there are 159,851 female students in Connecticut so if you do the math, that’s about $400,000.
She said they’ve applied for a grant from the Partnership for Connecticut to help cover the cost. That’s the educational partnership between the state and Dalio Philanthropies to help at-risk students in school.
“It’s a low-cost, high-impact solution to keeping people engaged in school,” Bergstein said.
Amy Barrett of Greenwich said in the United States one in five girls misses school or leaves school early due to the lack of access to feminie hygiene products.
Barrett and Charlotte Hallisey were successful in getting the Greenwich Board of Education to issue a bid to offer hygiene products for free in middle and high schools in that town. They received three bids, but have not awarded a contract yet.
“In 21st Century America schools have an obligation to serve all students equitably,” Charlotte Hallisey, another Greenwich student, said.
She said “gender-based rights are human rights. Together we can help end period poverty and end gender inequality.”
Hallisey said it’s not a financial issue “it’s really a human right.” She said schools don’t discuss the toilet paper and soap budget.
Kahn said period poverty, which is the inability to afford hygiene products is “muting some of our communities’ most marginalized voices.”
Khan worked to get her school to get rid of the 25 cent fee for hygiene products and she helped establish a program where teachers can put hearts on their doors to let students know they have hygiene products available.
“We shouldn’t have to fight for a right,” Khan said.
She said no one should have to choose between food and feminine hygiene products.
Bergstein called it “period injustice.” She said girls miss school because they can’t afford basic hygiene supplies.
“Allowing this to happen in 2020 is no longer acceptable. Periods are a normal bodily function, not an illness and not a source of shame.” Bergstein said.
Justin Esmer, a Hamden student, said ending period poverty is bigger than Connecticut.
He said there are female students in third world countries having to miss school because they can’t afford these products. He said Connecticut can be a leader in ending period poverty in the Nutmeg State and internationally.