Editor’s note: This story is in a series of articles written by students in the journalism program at California State University, Sacramento. They were taught by Phillip Reese, a Sacramento Bee staff reporter and an associate professor at CSUS. For more information about the CSUS journalism program, visit facebook.com/SacStateJournalism.
A new law will soon require free access to menstrual products for California students at schools across the state.
Assembly Bill 367, authored by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, will require all public schools in California with any combination of grades 6-12 to keep menstrual products fully stocked in all women’s restrooms, and all-gender restrooms, before or by the 2022-23 academic year.
The law will also require California State Universities and California Community Colleges to have at least one designated spot on campus adequately stocked with menstrual products to accommodate students.
“I don’t think it will be in every bathroom on campus, but I think it will be in many, many, many locations,” said Robert Nelsen, the president of California State University, Sacramento. “I think if we can find ways to spread them and have them in more locations that would be even better.”
His college is one of the many institutions that have provided free menstrual products to students who identify as women prior to the passing of AB367.
The school is pushing to further expand accessibility in compliance with the new requirements stated in the bill. Other California State University (CSU) campuses are doing the same.
“Each CSU campus will determine how and where they will make products available in at least one location – according to the law’s guidance,” said Hazel Kelly, the public affairs manager for the California State University Chancellor’s Office. “Locations could include student centers, libraries, wellness or health centers, pantries and study rooms.”
Michelle Barkley, the college nurse at Cosumnes River College, said that her community college has long provided free menstrual products.
“We have dispensers in all of the bathrooms and from what I’ve seen, I know in our newer buildings they’re free so we’ve had those available and have always made them available,” she said.
Supporters of the bill say that it will likely improve the stress that many students who aren’t able to afford menstrual products may experience.
“As the bill states, menstrual equity is a matter of human rights, and the CSU wants its students to reach their full potential, irrespective of gender,” Kelly said. “Providing these essential products for free can help reduce stress for under-resourced students so they can better focus on their studies.”
The bill also aims to increase student attendance. A recent poll by the nonprofit organization PERIOD and a menstrual products company found that 4 in 5 of 2,000 teens aged 13-19 had either missed class or knew someone who missed class due to the lack of access to menstrual products.
“New York City did this pilot program where they just put pads and tampons in school bathrooms and they found that a percent of the attendance actually went up by a couple of percentage points,” said Ashley Steimer-King, the program director of Girls Learn International with the Feminist Majority Foundation. “It may not sound like a lot but if you’re talking about one and a half to two percent increased attendance in New York City, which is a huge school district, that’s a pretty big deal.”
California school districts as well as individual college institutions will be responsible for providing menstrual products - pads and tampons - on their own.
According to the legislature’s bill analysis, AB 367 will result in one-time, state General Fund costs of about $2 million for school districts to install or modify menstrual product dispensers.
“It costs maybe $7-$10 a month or more for each student to purchase them and that’s not even the heavy cycle size,” said Aisha Engle, the senior coordinator for Women’s Resource Center at CSUS Sacramento.
Supporters of the bill hope it will help women and girls in poverty who may not have immediate access to menstrual products.
One of the main goals of AB367 is to help end “period poverty,” beginning in California, and in turn, set the standard for women’s rights advocacy in education nationwide.
A study done by BMC Women’s Health found that 14.2% of college-aged women have experienced period poverty in the past year and 10% every month.
“I think there’s been so much done to destigmatize periods and people who menstruate, but I think that we have to remember that the more we can do to accept our bodies and how our bodies work the better it’s going be for people’s mental health,” Steimer-King said.