Should schools provide free menstrual products?


PRO: A period isn’t optional; free menstrual products shouldn’t be either

Girls know the struggle well: you go into the day expecting it to be period-free, only to be met with an unpleasant surprise. In such a case, a pad or tampon in the school bathroom may just be the saving grace of a girl’s day.

However, some argue it is not the school’s responsibility to cater to such needs, or as 36 out of the 45 states with sales tax in the country call it, such “luxuries.” In other words, tampons are taxed as luxury products, not as tax exemptible necessities like medicine and groceries such as salt or sugar.

According to The Washington Post, only a small amount of state governments have taken concrete steps towards the broad outlawing of the controversial tampon tax.

“Basically we are being taxed for being women,” says California assemblywoman Cristina Garcia in a statement for the Post. “…Women have no choice but to buy these products…you can’t just ignore your period.”

Garcia also called for the same reform in schools. Two years ago, she proposed a bill to end the tampon tax in California. The same bill required all Title I schools in California to provide free menstrual products in their bathrooms, stemming a new dispute. Despite skepticism, California governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law in October 2016. Since then, many states, including Illinois in January of this year, have followed suit.

Whether because of cost or the question of need, many believe providing free feminine products is a waste of time. On the concern of money, however, the hundreds of schools that have already began to provide free tampons and pads in their girls bathrooms are fully reimbursed by the state–proving that there are legitimate funds for the courtesy. The truth is, the service helps girls nationwide, and in more ways than one.

The root of the problem lies with low-income families. According to Time Magazine, 1 in 3 American women either live in poverty or are on the brink of it, and considering tampons and pads cannot even be bought with food stamps, a monthly period can become a financial nightmare.

Many girls do not have access to feminine hygiene products because their families have to focus on other needs such as utilities and food. This lack of resources forces lesser-fortunate girls to find alternate solutions, such as reusing products, using socks, or using newspapers. These unsanitary strategies may cause diseases such as cervical cancer and toxic shock syndrome. Finally, girls may even skip school in all due to their periods.

When school absences build up, the issue can quickly turn into truancy. Depending on the state, a truant may face severe repercussions, such as fines and time in a correctional facility. Therefore, low-income girls potentially face dire consequences for a monthly body process they cannot avoid.

Even in affluent schools such as Milton High School, the need still exists. Though less of the area’s population is below the poverty line, those girls should not be forgotten, as the lack of feminine hygiene products has the capacity to jeopardize their attendance record and future opportunities.

For others, it is a matter of convenience. Free menstrual products in bathrooms are a safety net, of sorts. “It’s definitely needed,” says Milton sophomore Aarthi Eechampati. “Sometimes you forget.” A pad or tampon in the bathroom may even save girls the embarrassment of asking for one from a friend or nurse.

Still, there rises the question: Is any of this the school’s responsibility? Absolutely. It’s the same question of whether or not a school should have toilet paper in its bathrooms. The education system exists in order to expand knowledge and opportunity for all students, and so, schools should be doing all they can to ensure girls stay in class and are comfortable while they are there. Thus, a school without feminine hygiene products, broadly, is a marginalized one.

By: Jessi Rich



The argument that schools should provide menstrual products for free is rooted in the idea that a school must ensure the well-being of every single student to its full capability. According to Margaret LeCompte and Kathleen de Marrais in their book “The way schools work: A sociological analysis of education,” the four significant purposes of school include:

  • intellectual purposes such as the development of mathematical and reading skills;
  • political purposes such as the assimilation of immigrants;
  • economic purposes such as job preparation; and
  • social purposes such as the development of social and moral responsibility

Of course, that doesn’t mean schools leave their students to fend for themselves. Schools across the nation are equipped with free-lunch programs, counselors, and nurses to ensure a student’s well-being. In fact, Milton High school’s nurse has products on standby for any girl who needs them.

However, these services are meant for students who aren’t able to provide for themselves, not for every student. School’s primary duty is to provide quality education in a safe environment. A school should provide feminine products to students if the vast majority of students are unable to provide for themselves. Tami Shearer, Milton High School’s nurse, provides such products for girls. However, she only provides these “for emergency purposes,” saying “the majority of girls bring their own products.”

However, regardless of a school’s purpose, shouldn’t it be the school’s duty to meet the needs of their female students. Yes, but the needs of women in Milton and for most girls across the nation are met.” Bustle reports that 92% of Americans can afford these products. If the goal is to ensure every women has access to menstrual products, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to discuss ways to lower the cost of said products so they’re easier to access?

But what about the 8% of people who can’t afford tampons? It would be egregious to leave them out of this discussion because they are the people that need help the most. Fortunately, there are a plethora of viable options for women who can’t afford feminine products. In the rare case that a student can’t buy the necessary products, she may go to her school nurse or go to one of the listed charities, who provide support nationwide, to get their products.

Furthermore, charities meet the needs of poor more efficiently than any government initiative will. Robert L. Woodson in his book “Breaking the Poverty Cycle: Private Sector Alternatives to the Welfare State,” cites, from government data, that “calculated that, on average, 70 cents of each dollar budgeted for government assistance goes not to the poor, but to the members of the welfare bureaucracy and others serving the poor.” Michael Tanner (1996, p. 136 n. 18) cites regional studies supporting this 70/30 split.” On the flip side, they found that charities give away 70% of what they take in. “The bottom line,” says Mary Ruwart, “Government spends about 70% of tax dollars to get 30% of tax dollars to the poor. The private sector does the opposite, spending about 30% or less to get 70% of aid to the poor.”

If the goal is to make sure that the needs of every individual are met, the most efficient and broad coverage is ensured by private charities, not by a comprehensive government initiative. Since the vast majority of women have their needs met (and those who don’t have other avenues to get them for free), this initiative would end up wasting money, no matter how good-hearted the intention.

By: Foster Steinbeck