What do students need to succeed? Most people might say things like school supplies, a work ethic or time management skills. While all of these are true, for a lot of students, one thing that hinders their success is a lack of access to menstrual products.
About one in five girls in the United States have had to miss days of school or had to leave early because they didn’t have menstrual products, according to the Confidence & Puberty Survey conducted by Always. This is due to menstrual inequity, or period poverty, and it affects people all over the world.
Manju Bangalore, the executive director of Operation Period, a nonprofit organization that addresses menstrual inequity by “providing advocacy, education and products to those in need,” said menstrual inequity is “the concept that people across the world who menstruate don’t have the right access to facilities, products or the education to have a healthy period.”
Bangalore, a recent graduate from the University of Oregon, started Operation Period in February of 2015 with other UO students in order to combat menstrual inequity and bring awareness to the issue.
Bangalore has seen the impact of inadequate access to menstrual products, as both of her grandmothers were child brides in India. This is due in large part to the fact that they weren’t able to finish school because of a lack of access to healthcare. Bangalore said that this is a common problem in India and other less developed countries.
Menstrual inequity affects much more than hygiene and the ability to get an education. When young people don’t have access to menstrual products, they are more likely to become child brides because they aren’t finishing school. This raises the risk of maternal mortality because those who get married young are more likely to have kids at a young age, when childbirth is more dangerous.
Bangalore’s mom, however, was able to finish school and get a law degree because she had access to the healthcare that her mother did not.
“We are able in one generaton to change the cycle of poverty, to change access to healthcare and to education — all of these things in large part because of access to menstrual products,” Bangalore said.
Though still based in Oregon, Operation Period has expanded to cities all over the United States, as well as in India. One way they have been able to do this is by starting school clubs, one of which is being created at UO.
Menstrual inequity is a problem around the world, including in the United States, and it is also a problem right here on our campus. Operation Period’s first goal for the UO campus will be to get menstrual products into all the bathrooms on campus, including the gender neutral and men’s bathrooms.
“Because not just women bleed and not all women bleed,” Bangalore said.
What this means is that an important part of advocating for menstrual equity is recognizing that there are transgender men and nonbinary people who also menstruate, and their access to products is just as important. Other colleges around the country, including Yale and Columbia, have already started implementing inclusive free access to menstrual products, and the UO should follow suit.
The conversation on period poverty has been extremely gendered and it still is; however, Operation Period uses gender-inclusive language. The organization says on its website that “when we don’t fight for everyone who bleeds, we claim victory when the fight is not over.”
If we want to help eradicate menstrual inequity on campus by supplying free products, we must do so in an inclusive manner.
Periods are still a taboo subject, which makes achieving menstrual equity even harder to do. As part of accomplishing its goals, Operation Period tries to break down this taboo using education and advocacy. They hope to put on more events, projects and initiatives on campus in the future to bring menstrual education to UO and to get people involved in the fight against period poverty. If you are interested in learning more or helping out, keep a lookout on campus for Operation Period in the next few months.
There is still a long way to go before the world is rid of menstrual inequity. However, the University of Oregon can do its part right now by making access to free menstrual products in every bathroom on campus a reality, thus ensuring the success of its students.