The case for free tampons and pads in schools Activists say menstrual products are a basic necessity that shouldn't require a long walk to the school nurse's office, and that providing them is key to removing the stigma of periods.

The case for free tampons and pads in schools

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This fall, California became the fifth state to require free tampons and pads in its school bathrooms. Across the country, many students say they don't have access to these products when they need them. And they say the long walk to the school nurse's office is humiliating and interferes with their learning. NPR's Mansee Khurana reports on a growing movement to end the stigma and make period products easily accessible in schools.

MANSEE KHURANA, BYLINE: Once, when Cristina Garcia was at a climate change conference for political leaders, she suddenly got her period.

CRISTINA GARCIA: I literally went to every single bathroom I could find. And I went to the nurse's station. And I went to the volunteer station. And no one had any menstrual products.

KHURANA: If it can be that hard for her, she wondered, what's it like for young people who menstruate and cannot afford products when they need them or find them in their school bathrooms? Fortunately, Garcia was in a position to help. She's a California assemblywoman, and she's become known in the state as the period princess.

GARCIA: Students called me. And I was like, how do I fix this?

KHURANA: The Los Angeles County Democrat introduced the bill that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in October. It guarantees that period products are easily available in all public schools, not just low-income ones. Students and activists in other states are hoping that the California law will drive change across the country - students like Mahoro Amani.

MAHORO AMANI: It was really concerning to me how many kids have had, like, panic attacks or cried in the bathroom because them and none of their friends have pads on them. The school doesn't have any.

KHURANA: Amani is a 10th grader at Miami Arts Charter High School in Florida. They recently led a successful protest to change their school's dress code policy. And now they want to make period products available in school bathrooms. But they say it isn't always easy convincing school administrators.

AMANI: And I think it's just harder for them to see out of a perspective that isn't theirs.

KHURANA: The school tells NPR that these products are available for free in a female administrator's office. But Amani believes that that's not enough. And they believe that schools need to understand what it's like to feel the stress of sitting in class, not knowing if you're going to need a change of pants. Nicky Dawkins says there are bigger issues at stake here, too, including students' health. Especially in poor neighborhoods, she says, the lack of availability sometimes leads to unsanitary practices.

NICKY DAWKINS: I had a few girls that I talked to who were rationing their pads, or they would be like, oh, I can make one pad last for my whole cycle.

KHURANA: Dawkins works for an advocacy group called PERIOD. For the last three years, she has been trying to win passage of legislation in Florida, requiring schools to stock free period products in at least half the bathrooms on campus. Opponents worry that students may steal the period products or that the cost of these items will take away money from school budgets. But Dawkins says that's a weak argument.

DAWKINS: I think it's like toilet paper. We don't go into public bathrooms and steal the toilet paper because we're just like, it's always there.

KHURANA: She also says the change could have benefits for learning. One pilot study from New York City found an increase in attendance among girls after tampons and pads were available in some of the school restrooms. In Florida, Amani says they'll keep trying to convince administrators that menstrual products are a human right.

AMANI: I wish that they would step up a little more.

KHURANA: And at the state level, they and other activists are hoping California will serve as an example to the 37 other states that are considering similar bills. Mansee Khurana, NPR News.

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