Commentary: ‘Period poverty’ threat to girls’ health, education

Poor access to menstrual supplies in schools, like Kamiak High, can result in health problems, absences.

By Ashley Duong, Jinyang “Alice” Zhang and Ramya Arumilli

For The Herald

Even in a presidential election cycle with a historic number of highly qualified women candidates, a problem that continues to go unaddressed by any major candidate for president is the ongoing “period poverty” crisis in America.

As co-presidents of Period.@Kamiak, one of more than 330 chapters of Period, a youth-led nonprofit group focused on championing menstrual equity, let us explain why candidates need to speak out and directly address access to menstrual products.

Access to menstrual hygiene products is restricted because of sexist and discriminatory perspectives that translate into willful ignorance and harmful policies. Conversations surrounding such an important topic are ignored, promoting a shameful and problematic stigma. The same bias that has us and fellow Period activists fighting for schools to supply free menstrual products in public restrooms is the same reason 35 states, including our very own, still classify period products — tampons, sanitary napkins and menstrual cups — as luxury items. (Toilet paper isn’t a luxury item. Why are tampons?)

Period poverty, or the lack of access to menstrual products, increases the risk of toxic shock syndrome, cervical cancer and other dangerous infections as a result. And though I can’t cite government data because issues affecting girls, women, trans and nonbinary people have been almost entirely ignored by research to this day, there is anecdotal data to indicate nearly 1 in 5 American girls have either left school early or missed school entirely because they did not have access to period products.

No one should be held back by their body’s naturally occurring processes. Everyone should be empowered to reach their full potential; to be seen and supported. In Mukilteo, we’ve launched a campaign asking Kamiak High School and the Mukilteo School District to address the issue. As students, we deserve access to necessities that would allow us to learn in class uninterrupted. We should not be forced to choose between our education or our menstrual health.

If you support local students, show Kamiak High School that free menstrual products in the bathrooms are of the utmost importance. Speak out and don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard.

Ashley Duong, Jinyang “Alice” Zhang and Ramya Arumilli are students at Kamiak High School, in Mukilteo.

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