Missouri House Bill to potentially provide public school restrooms with free period supplies

A+recent+study+in+the+Journal+of+Obstetrics+and+Gynecology+found+that+64%25+of+low+income+women+in+the+St.+Louis+area+routinely+lack+access+to+menstrual+hygiene+products.

Lydia Roseman

A recent study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that 64% of low income women in the St. Louis area routinely lack access to menstrual hygiene products.

By Lydia Roseman, Parkway West High School

Girls restrooms throughout the school are equipped with shoeboxes stuffed with tampons and pads thanks to Go With the Flow, a club created “in hopes of destigmatizing periods, providing easier access to feminine hygiene products and lobbying for the removal of the Pink Tax.” With the introduction of Missouri House Bill 1954 by Rep. Martha Stevens Jan. 8, Go With the Flow may no longer need to stock the restrooms.

If passed, beginning July 1, 2021, the bill would require “every public school and charter school to provide period products in the restrooms for all middle school, junior high and high school buildings in which there are students in grades six through 12 at no charge to the students.” In an effort to pass this bill, Stevens joined forces with St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies founder and executive director Jessica Adams.

The bill was made possible by a pro bono lobbyist in Jefferson City who worked with Rep. Stevens to develop the language of the bill and its costs.

“Our involvement is that we’ve been sharing information about period poverty in Missouri with legislators over the past couple of years and now that they know about it, they’re wanting to do something about it,” Adams said. “We’ve developed relationships with a lot of folks including Rep. Stevens. We’ve been chatting with her about what we hope to accomplish through the St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies. When she had the idea to file this, she called and asked what we thought and if we would be supportive.”

In researching this issue, Adams came across an article in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology which said the main cause of period poverty in the United States is a lack of research and understanding of women’s issues, especially regarding periods.

“It’s really the first research about access to menstrual hygiene products in the U.S.. All of the research except for hers focuses on the developing world and not on the U.S., probably because people in the U.S. are afraid to talk about periods,” Adams said. “We’re taught to use this veiled language, euphemisms, to talk about our body parts and our bodily functions, and I think that’s a big part of the reason that women don’t have access to these products. If you’re not allowed to talk about it, you’re also not allowed to say that you don’t have what you need.”

If you’re not allowed to talk about it, you’re also not allowed to say that you don’t have what you need,”

— St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies founder and executive director Jessica Adams

Though the St. Louis Alliance for Period Supplies focuses primarily on women who cannot afford supplies, Adams believes students should have convenient access to free period products whenever they are at school.

“Period products, in terms of taking care of the health and cleanliness of students, are really no different than having toilet paper or paper towels or soap in the bathroom. It’s just as important and should really be provided by the school,” Adams said.

In order to make this possible, Adams hopes to involve students who are willing to share their stories with legislators.

“We will be working with Rep. Stevens to have some real concrete ways that students can get involved and we’re incredibly excited to see that take off. I’m sure Rep. Stevens will be sharing information through her website or through press releases, but the Alliance for Period Supplies will definitely be publishing that stuff and also through our Instagram page @thisisatampon,” Adams said.

In addition to student interest, there are legislators who have expressed interest in the bill and are eager to support it.

“We do know that there are many legislators in the majority party who are interested in this issue, who care about this issue and who want to see change, so I think we’ll have plenty of advocates helping us find a creative way to get what we want in the end,” Adams said. “We’re so excited to know that students are excited about getting engaged in this. I think that across the country high school and college students have been the biggest driver of change when it comes to menstrual equity and period poverty, so I’m really excited to see that taking off in St. Louis.”

This story was originally published on Pathfinder on March 9, 2020.