Marroquin: Menstrual products in girls’ school bathrooms would reduce period poverty

Why students in VT need better access to period products in school

by Grace Marroquin

Editor’s note: In 2021, the Legislature passed S.115, a general education bill, that included a requirement that public schools provide menstrual products at no cost to students.

As a high school senior, I understand the many challenges that being a girl in high school holds. Hard classes, first jobs, complex social dynamics, and college applications. The stress of it all is hard enough without the added stress of periods. I know I’m not the only one who has bled through her pants or not been able to find a tampon when I really needed one. After advocating for period products to three different principals over three different years, free product dispensers were finally installed in my own school just this fall. Without strong legislation to enforce easy access to products, many schools have forgotten the importance of providing female bathrooms with these products.

Most girls begin to menstruate before high school, in middle or even elementary school. This means that almost all the girls entering high school are menstruating regularly and they will continue to do so until age 45 or 50. Most girls experience irregular period cycles for the first couple of years, varying in length, regularity, and severity.

As a taboo subject in our society, menstruation can seem daunting, especially when it is still new. When girls lack the necessary products to take care of themselves and their bodies, it can result in them missing out on their education. Throughout my years in middle and high school, I’ve known girls to miss between half a class and multiple school days because they feel uncomfortable or don’t have easy access to what they need, namely hygiene products. Even girls who usually provide their own products can forget to bring a tampon or pad on the days that they will need it, or start their period during a school day.

While most schools keep pads and tampons in the nurse’s office, some girls feel uncomfortable asking for products. It is important to acknowledge young women who consider menstruation a private issue and to respect their privacy by not making them ask each time they need a tampon or pad. Even for those who have the courage to ask, it takes time out of class for them to walk to the nurse, ask for a product, use the restroom, and return to class. Periods are normal and young women shouldn’t feel embarrassed or have to miss out on their education, even if it’s just one class, because of them. No one should miss more than five minutes of class to use the restrooms; menstruating should be no different, especially due to lack of access to hygiene products.

Period poverty, the lack of resources, financial or otherwise, used for menstrual hygiene, is a very real phenomenon. When schools fail to provide adequate resources for their students, they are only contributing to the problem. Furthermore, students who experience period poverty outside of school can find solace in schools that provide sufficient feminine products during school hours. Additionally, all across the country, we see young girls not knowing how their bodies work and how to take care of them. Making sure that we are providing products, as well as education about periods, is an important step towards accounting for the health and safety of all our students.

A school’s job is to uphold the dignity of each student who walks through the doors. For so long, schools have been failing their young women in this way. Students should never be embarrassed or worried about going to school, especially due to a normal, biological process. When schools provide students with everything they need to be successful during their day at school, they help students realize their full potential.  If our young women are missing out on parts of their education due to a lack of period products, then they are prohibited from living up to their full potential.

Additionally, their male counterparts will never miss class or school for this reason. The more school young women miss because of their periods, the more disadvantaged they are compared to young men in their classes. These types of gender inequities should be accounted for, especially in education where women for so long weren’t welcome. We need to make sure that our young women feel supported and comfortable. Middle and high school are very formative times for all adolescents. Using this time to make sure that young girls feel supported is an important way to make sure they can be confident and successful for the rest of their lives. That starts with making sure they aren’t afraid or uncomfortable in educational settings. When schools don’t provide these products, our education system is no longer equal opportunity like it claims to be; it favors those who don’t menstruate, namely boys, who will never miss class because they couldn’t find a tampon, or bled through their pants.

Investing in period products isn’t just an investment in pads and tampons, it’s an investment in the education, knowledge, and lives of our young people. Students like me shouldn’t have to advocate for our right to period products. Schools providing them should be the rule, not the exception. I recently contacted two dozen Vermont legislators hoping to bring this issue to their attention. Out of the twenty-four I contacted, only two responded. Many of our legislators have been busy with the unfortunate flooding many of our communities experienced over the summer. However, that doesn’t minimize the things young women in our schools experience every single day. This has gone on for decades across the country, and it is time that we rectify the situation.

Please do what you can to support these initiatives in your communities and across our state. Make sure the young women in your communities have access to what they need in their middle in high schools. Urge your legislators to support changes to the statutes that currently leave too much wiggle room for schools and districts to avoid putting resources toward pads and tampons for their students. Lastly, find ways to open up conversations with your daughters and other young women about periods, and what kind of access they have to menstrual products at school. Make sure that they know they don’t have to feel uncomfortable and can advocate for themselves. The more we talk about these topics, the less stigma they carry, leading more young women to be able to advocate for what they need, and more teachers, administrators, and parents to begin to realize what we need.

Author is a current Senior at Rice Memorial High School.

Categories: Commentary

4 replies »

  1. Your concerns were very well expressed. Surprised that it has taken so long to address your concerns and the concerns of all young women at this stage of their lives

  2. “A school’s job is to uphold the dignity of each student who walks through the doors.” We have drifted a long way from schools just being the providers of an education, and not sure if I would go so far as to elevate the public financing of products such as this to the level of a civil right, but ok, good arguments were made by the author here. The problem is that since this issue has wound it’s way through the Vermont Legislature we have gone through a bit of a gender awakening in society and it will obviously have to be revised to provide these products in ALL restrooms.
    After all, as we all know now, menstruation can be experienced by “all” genders.

    • Rich, times have changed. The actual mission statement at Grace’s high school is, “…to guide our students toward the realization of their God-given potential. Rice teaches students to recognize and develop their gifts by inspiring them to love learning, to serve others and to seek God through Jesus Christ and his Church. We do this by focusing on four pillars: faith, academic excellence, service and community.” The community relies on school’s to do a lot more than simply to be “providers of an education”. We have also discovered that you can’t simply educate students in a vacuum. The students we serve are people first, not just widgets on an assembly line. People with basic needs such as food and shelter, love and belonging and a sense of purpose. Teens spend more waking hours inside their school building than they do anywhere else during a typical week. Physical, mental and emotional health issues can get in the way of learning and the fact that we are more able to identify and discuss these challenges today should not be seen as a threat, but as an asset to our ability to provide an education. And, yes, I would surely hope that any school, regardless of its stated mission would see it as their job to uphold the dignity of the students who walk in their doors. This young woman only wants feminine hygiene products to be paid for in the budget and “free” to the people who use their bathrooms just like toilet paper. I know it is not a perfect metaphor but I see it this way, some students eat their mac and cheese with a fork and some with a spoon. Is it too much to ask for the cafeteria to provide both? Or should the “spoon kids” have to pay for their own utensil and remember to bring them in their backpack. Grace you are an inspiriation! You have opened our eyes to something so simple we should have seen it all along. I am so proud of who you are and what you do for our community.

  3. Well written article.
    Sorry Ms. Marroquin, but I cannot support your request. Not that my support means a fig to anyone. Nonetheless, let me explain why.
    This is your personal hygiene. No one, and I do mean no one, is responsible for your personal hygiene, but you. Some workplaces might offer this option in their facilities. But it is not the responsibility of the state, or the citizens of the state to pay for your personal hygiene supplies.
    It is incumbent upon every menstruating girl and woman to be prepared for life’s inevitable challenges. And trust me, your generation isn’t the first to have financially disadvantaged students nor is your generation the first to miss classes due to embarrassment, poor planning, lack of resources or other such personal issues.
    You need to be responsible for yourself. If you don’t have the resources, there are adults in your circle who can and be glad to help. You can’t hide or run from embarrassment. It is one of life’s essential experiences. It’s how you mature.

    I would encourage you to utilize your very fine writing talents on issues more salient. You clearly have a good handle on expressing yourself. But this topic should stop here and go no further. And if you don’t intuitively understand why it is not the state’s responsibility, nor the citizens of the state, to provide for your personal hygiene, then I suggest you have a conversation with your grandmother or great grandmother. It is possible that they may be able to explain it to you in a way that is meaningful to you.
    Pam Baker