As issues of period health and product access gain greater attention globally, a new proposal in the D.C. Council seeking to improve students’ access to period products raises questions about the state of menstrual equity at GDS.
As Dr. Christi Hay, a pediatrician and former GDS parent, told the Bit, “having a cycle shouldn’t be a barrier to receiving education. We shouldn’t be penalized and our education shouldn’t be minimized or in jeopardy because sanitation products aren’t available for us.” GDS currently provides these products to students free of charge, but this is not the case in schools across the city. A D.C. councilmember, Brooke Pinto, is trying to get free period products in D.C. public school bathrooms.
“We certainly have had kids who have missed school or missed classes because of [period] cramps,” Elizabeth McDermott, the lower and middle school nurse at GDS, said in an interview. She also noted that there are students at GDS who don’t have access to products at home, and therefore rely on the free products at GDS for their menstrual cycles. “One of the things that I love about being a private school nurse is that we do have that ability to give as-needed medication to kids if their parents sign for them because I do not think that any child should have to miss school because of menstrual cramps.”
Sophomore Zaira Chowdhury believes GDS has work to do when it comes to menstrual equity. “I think that GDS doesn’t do an amazing job,” she said. “The products provided at GDS aren’t the best and are practically not usable. I think that though it is better than some schools, GDS truly can improve on the products that they do have so the people who menstruate feel more included” in the school’s community.
“I think at GDS they do a pretty good job because from what I know, the products are free in the women’s restroom,” freshman and Student Staff Council representative Madison McDaniel said. “But making [menstrual products] accessible in middle, elementary, and high school would be good.”
Having menstrual products available in bathrooms is helpful for students. It prevents students from having to bring a backpack or bag with necessary products to the bathroom rather than walking into a restroom with everything they need being right there.
“Even though it isn’t the worst thing to ask a friend for [menstrual] products, they should always be available because they are a necessity,” Amelia Oscherwitz, a freshman, said. In addition, it is important that each bathroom stall contain proper receptacles for disposal of menstrual products.
“I walked into a GDS bathroom and came out and explained to all my friends that the tampon trash cans worked. I was really happy because I’ve never been in a school bathroom that had working tampon trash cans,” Oscherwitz added.
Currently, DCPS does not provide free menstrual products. For some, this is an equity issue and a D.C. councilmember is working to expand access. For example, at a school like Woodrow Wilson High School, a few blocks from GDS, students do not have access to free period products in the bathrooms.
D.C. Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto co-introduced legislation with former Councilmember David Grosso on Sept. 11 titled “Expanding Student Access to Period Products Act of 2020.” The bill calls for free menstrual products to be provided and maintained in D.C. public and charter middle and high schools in women’s and gender-neutral restrooms. It also provides that a dispenser would be in one women’s or gender-neutral restroom in all elementary schools. The legislation would be a step towards making public and public charter schools in D.C. become more period-friendly.
This bill, if passed, will only impact public and charter schools, but it raises the question of whether private schools like GDS can improve menstrual equity too.
“I absolutely support that bill,” said McDermott. “I think that is wonderful. I would suggest it be taken even further and that they have them in more than one bathroom in elementary schools because we are seeing more and more girls getting their periods during elementary school.”
Students are not the only population affected by menstrual equity. “This bill is really just the first step,” said Ella Hanson, the legislative and community director for Councilmember Pinto, in an interview with the Bit. “For homeless individuals, we want to make sure that they are being provided consistently in shelters. We’ve also explored a few different ways to provide period products to women who are below the poverty line.”
The 2020 legislative session ended before the bill was passed but Councilmember Pinto plans to re-introduce it for this year’s session.
CORRECTION (Feb. 21, 11:34 p.m.): A previous version of this article misleadingly stated that 84 percent of students who menstruate had missed class time due to a lack of access to period products, citing a 2019 study called “State of the Period: the widespread impact of period poverty on U.S. students.”