The addition of free pads in Blair bathrooms is crucial to making menstrual hygiene accessible and helping the community
There are a lot of changes that’ve been made at Blair this year. There are the obvious ones, such as the faces obscured behind masks, socially distanced desks, and gargantuan jugs of hand sanitizer in every classroom. However, there is another subtler, yet just as important change -- free pads provided in the bathrooms.
The pads were provided through Farzaneh Nabavian, the Parent Community Coordinator at Blair. The process started with a vision from the administration and some students to provide free and accessible menstrual hygiene for the school.
Throughout quarantine and the start of the school year, different people and organizations in the community grouped together to donate pads to the school. As Nabavian notes, the push to make the vision a reality was made possible through the kindness and hard work of many different people. “The whole thing was a collaborative effort… We actually took that vision and we made it free and available at the school,” Nabavian says.
When the school year started, the pads were provided first as a test run. Seeing as the students have been respecting the resources, Nabavian plans to make this a permanent feature in the Blair bathrooms. With over 6,000 pads being donated over quarantine, as well as donations from staff and community members, implementing this change permanently is definitely plausible -- “we don’t think we’re ever going to run out,” Nabavian notes.
The implementation of free pads in the bathrooms was also thanks to recent pushes in legislation and student advocacy. Across MCPS, different student advocacy groups have pushed Montgomery County and Maryland legislators to pass laws that would require schools to provide free or easily-accessible menstrual hygiene products in bathrooms for students.
In the past few years, this legislation has been a key part of campaigns for those running for Student Member of the Board (SMOB). The current SMOB, Hana O’Looney, recently successfully pushed for legislation that would require MCPS schools to provide free menstrual hygiene products for students, citing that the issue is directly connected to quality of education. “It only follows logic that when menstruating students don’t have access to pads or tampons, we are going to miss class. The issue of access to menstrual hygiene products in schools is a clear issue of access to education,” O’Looney said.
At Blair, the Young Democrats Club has worked in previous years to lobby and write to Maryland officials in positions of power for similar legislation. Sophomore Marie Spirtas, the current president of Young Democrats Club, emphasizes the added importance of having easy access to menstrual hygiene products in school while in a pandemic. “Especially now due to COVID, I don’t think we need extra people in the nurse’s office just to get pads and tampons,” Spirtas says.
Spirtas also mentions that the main opposition to this kind of legislation is the fear that the products will be misused, and that this would ultimately lead to a lot of expenses piling up. However, as of right now, students have been respecting the provided products and resources, and a lot of students feel that the addition is purely beneficial.
Senior Fiona Vicary, one of the co-presidents of the Girl Up club at Blair, views the change as crucial and long overdue. “Public restrooms have [menstrual hygiene products], so I definitely think it should have happened a while ago,” Vicary says.
Furthermore, on a personal level for a lot of people with periods, not having a menstrual hygiene product when you need it is never a simple matter. As freshman Nikhita Bhatt puts it, being unable to access a pad or tampon easily in public can cause immediate panic and stress. “When [my friends and classmates] don’t have a pad, it’s like a big deal,” Bhatt says. Having free pads in the Blair bathrooms helps alleviate this stress and work toward eliminating this common problem.
Vicary also notes that having accessible menstrual hygiene products is key toward pushing for more gender equity. She, along with the rest of Girl Up, aim to promote fundraising to continue the efforts that are being made. “It’s something we can do for our school, which is awesome,” Vicary says.
That said, it’s important to note that while this is definitely a step forward, the discussion around menstrual hygiene (as well as just menstrual-related topics in general) is still filled with stigma. Many people with periods are uncomfortable with talking about it, and while this is partly a matter of personal privacy, it is also partially caused by the negative light society and the community sheds on periods.
For example, many people with periods feel the need to hide their pads and tampons when they have to change them at school. While some cite that they simply prefer to keep the matter private, others feel ashamed or scared at the thought of others knowing that they are on their period.
In fact, this isn’t just the case with students -- the discomfort surrounding menstruation is so widespread that there is a name for it: period stigma.
According to an article from Verywell Mind, period stigma is “a broad term for the discrimination faced by people who menstruate.” In many different cultures, periods are viewed as shameful and taboo, and can lead to lowered self-esteem and confidence.
Period stigma manifests in many different ways. This can be something outright, like jokes about Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) or cultural exclusion of people who are menstruating. However, a lack of free or affordable menstrual hygiene products also contributes to the stigma and perpetuates the culture of pretending periods simply don’t exist.
Along with the shame surrounding menstruation, there is also the added economic hindrance of paying large amounts of money for pads and tampons. According to an article from Grit Daily, people with periods spend an average of $60 per year on menstrual hygiene products. Since pads and tampons are necessities for people with periods, companies can increase their prices and still guarantee that people will continue to purchase them.
Because of this, menstrual hygiene products are often considered luxury items due to their high cost, and many countries impose a sales tax on these products (colloquially termed the “tampon tax”). However, these high costs place heavy burdens on low-income families and only exacerbate wealth disparities. This makes it even more important for menstrual hygiene products to be provided at schools for free.
Over the past few decades, society has come a long way in empowering women and encouraging them to make their voices heard. That said, the stigma surrounding menstruation remains a constant presence in our lives. And while it may seem small, Blair’s addition of pads to the bathrooms is a crucial step in reducing period stigma and making the discussion around menstruation more inclusive and less stigmatized.
Note from Ms. Nabavian: Please don’t place other menstrual hygiene products in the bathrooms. This is a safety concern, as the products need to be closely monitored and controlled by the school.
Katalina Li. Hi there! I'm Katalina (she/her) and I'm a junior. When I'm not writing articles, I'm usually binge-watching Gordon Ramsay shows, drawing Studio Ghibli characters, or making piano covers for my YouTube channel :) More »