Period poverty dramatically impacts the ability of many students across Minnesota to get a quality education. Period poverty is defined as the struggle to afford adequate menstrual products. The impact is felt disproportionately by menstruators of color and is pervasive. In a recent study, 84% of those surveyed who struggle to afford menstrual products have reported missing school as a result.
We are thrilled and relieved that the Minnesota Legislature is going to do something about this pressing issue.
This legislative session, the Menstrual Equity Coalition is focused on passing the Menstrual Equity Bill (HF44/SF50). This bill will require all Minnesota district and charter schools to provide free menstrual products in all bathrooms, grades four through 12, ensuring access for all students who menstruate.
School restrooms provide free toilet paper, hand soap, paper towels, and clean water. They also need to provide the essential products that all who menstruate need on a regular monthly basis. Students have reported using rags, paper towels, toilet paper, and cardboard to manage their blood flow. Others have to ration menstrual products by using them for extended amounts of time, which is extremely dangerous and can lead to toxic shock syndrome, cervical cancer and other major health issues.
We do not expect students to bring their own toilet paper to school. We shouldn't assume that all students can afford and provide their own menstrual necessities either.
The Menstrual Equity Bill will also help to normalize conversations around having a period and reduce the stigma associated with this basic bodily function. Too many students have to skip class, miss out on activities, daily life and suffer from anxiety because of the lack of menstrual products and our inability to support their natural menstrual flow. Lack of access to menstrual products perpetuates a harmful shame about menstruation that is all too common. It perpetuates the stigma that our cycles are embarrassing, something to hide and dirty, all of which are untrue and sexist.
In 2023 we must show our commitment to our women, girls and all menstruators in Minnesota schools. Let's join the 17 states that already ensure students have adequate menstrual products at school.
Sandra Feist, DFL-New Brighton, is a member of the Minnesota House. Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie, is a member of the Minnesota Senate. Carolyn Handke is a menstrual health educator at PeriodWellness. Erica Solomon is executive director, National Council of Jewish Women Minnesota. Elif Ozturk is a student at Hopkins High School.