Menstrual hygiene products are a necessity, not a luxury. It’s a statement that took Girl Scout Emily all the way from her high school’s restrooms to the state capitol of California while earning the Gold Award.
“No matter where one lives, it should not be a luxury to have access to and use menstrual products but a basic human right,” says Emily.
It’s a universal experience for people who menstruate: Sometimes you are simply without the proper products you need when your period starts. It’s a moment Emily says she’s experienced, as well as her friends and teammates at school. Sure, school nurses often have products in their offices, but it isn’t always feasible to make it there and then to class on time. Emily got curious about what kind of access she had to menstrual hygiene products on her school’s campus.
“After going through every bathroom on campus to check if there were tampon or pad dispensers, I found that there were only two,” she says. “Both required coins, and one was so rusted and jammed, it wouldn’t function. I felt like this is an issue that should be recognized—there are hundreds of girls on campus who lead busy enough lives and shouldn’t have to worry or stress over access to pads and tampons. They should be treated just like toilet paper—as a basic hygiene necessity.”
Emily also felt strongly that students should have easy access to these products to break down the social stigma surrounding periods.
“I am aware that some girls I know have period anxiety and often have to miss school since they do not have access to products or are stressed out on how they will get them at school,” she says. “Menstruation is a natural biological process and deserves to be treated that way.”
She got to work finding out what it would take to install dispensers in every bathroom at her school—a little bit of research about laws in California and a lot of conversations filled with a lot of no’s, as it turned out. Many school authorities thought the cost of installing and maintaining these dispensers would be too high, but there was also another issue.
“Talking to so many of these school administration offices made me realize that one of the largest issues preventing schools from installing dispensers was clogged toilets,” she said. “So, along with district maintenance, I was able to also install signs to notify girls to dispose of products in trash cans.”
Research also taught Emily that Title 1 schools were eligible to be reimbursed by the state for hygiene products. By pushing for access, Emily was able to get pad and tampon dispensers in restrooms not just at her own school, but in 27 schools across California.
It was a huge accomplishment, but her work wasn’t done. While she was advocating for the dispensers to be installed, a bill called AB-367 was being passed by the state of California. The bill requires all public schools in the state with students in grades 6–12 to provide free menstrual hygiene products for its students, not just Title 1 schools.
Thrilled, Emily contacted the representative who brought forth the bill, Christina Garcia, and began working with her team of legislative aids in her Capitol office to further this work’s reach out to incarcerated and homeless individuals who needed access to menstrual hygiene products as well.
“My bill proposal created a broader adoption and greater enforcement of bills like these that are clearer about what women [in homeless shelters or correctional facilities] are entitled to in regard to menstruation products,” says Emily. “My bill also addresses juvenile justice facilities so that they are cared for too.”
She hopes the bill will be passed and eliminate the lack of access in homeless communities or access to overpriced, low-quality products in jails.
Education around periods and the importance of menstrual hygiene is a passion Emily continues to share with others. As a result of her Gold Award project, she’s created an educational texting hotline, a podcast, and founded a women’s health club that consists of girls from 6 different schools at her school.