At the start of the 2022-23 school year, public schools in California serving students in grades six through twelve will be required to stock all girls’ and gender neutral restrooms, and one boys’ restroom with free pads and tampons.
The “Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021” was signed into law on October 8, 2021 by California Governor Gavin Newsom, after being unanimously passed by the state legislature. The bill will also require California State Universities and community colleges to stock at least one easily accessible location on campus with menstrual products. Girls’ and gender neutral bathrooms serving students over the age of nine will also be required to have a trash can in each stall for disposing of packaging and used menstrual products.
In 2018, the Berkeley School Board approved a policy requiring Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) middle and high schools to stock all girls’ and gender neutral restrooms with free pads and tampons, in addition to one girls’ or gender neutral bathroom at each BUSD elementary school. However, out of five girls’ restrooms that the Jacket visited at Berkeley High School (BHS), only two had fully functional machines stocked with both pads and tampons.
Raquel Matthews, a senior in Academic Choice (AC) and Ty Walthall, a sophomore in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), both said the girls’ bathrooms at BHS do not reliably provide tampons and pads. Matthews said there are always menstrual products available in the health center, but that students have to walk to the H building to get them.
“I normally bring my own [menstrual supplies] if I need them, but I’ve had occasions where I’ve had to borrow one from a friend,” Walthall said.
Selena Russell-Zazueta, a sophomore in AC, said if she needs a pad or tampon but didn’t bring one from home, she asks a friend.
“[If I need menstrual supplies] I either ask a friend or some teachers keep pads and tampons in their classroom,” Matthews said. “But, we definitely should not have to rely on last minute things like that because you can’t predict your period. It just happens.”
Matthews also said not all students who get periods are comfortable talking about them or asking others for supplies when they don’t have any.
“People who aren’t as comfortable talking about their periods or asking for different products, they’ll never get [the supplies they need],” Matthews said.
According to a national survey of American women, 86 percent of females have not had period supplies with them when they start their period. All three students that the Jacket spoke with described being at school without period supplies as inconvenient and embarrassing.
“It’s annoying,” Matthews said. “You might get [menstrual blood] on your seat or something and then you have to wipe it off. Also, it’s just super inconvenient. It kind of ruins your day.”
She also said that many people experience mood fluctuations due to hormones during their menstrual cycle, which can make the experience even more intense or upsetting.
“It can just make me really self conscious and also scared and nervous,” Russell-Zazueta said.
Having unreliable access to menstrual products may also cause students to miss class time searching for supplies. Under California law, a student who misses 30 minutes of class more than three times in a school year may be considered “truant’’ and face penalties.
Matthews said that there should be pads and tampons in every restroom at BHS because not everyone who has a period uses girls’ or gender neutral bathrooms.
“I think pads and tampons should be in all the bathrooms and I think every teacher should be required to carry them in their room,” she said. We already know the bathrooms are a place where people steal things, so you should have some kind of space that’s safer for the products.”
Walthall also said that period products should be readily available in BHS bathrooms and classrooms.
“[In an ideal world period products] would just be there [in BHS restrooms],” they said. “I think they should be free everywhere because it should be a basic human right.”