The Importance of Free Period Products on College Campuses

Access to free period products impacts the mental and physical health of college students nationwide. Join the movement for equitable access.

portrait of Vanesha McGee, M.Ed.
by Vanesha McGee, M.Ed.

Updated May 27, 2022

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The Importance of Free Period Products on College Campuses
Image Credit: ondacaracola photography / Moment / Getty Images


Menstruation — a basic human function — requires stigma-free education and access to products that support healthy management. According to a 2021 study by Thinx and PERIOD, nearly 25% of students experience inadequate access to menstrual products.

Lack of access to menstrual products — also called period poverty — affects individuals at increasing rates. Women who experienced period poverty over a series of months were more likely to report moderate to severe levels of depression than those with regular access to menstrual products.

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Ready to start your journey?

Nancy Kramer, founder of Free the Tampons, names it simply, "All bathrooms are not created equal. Some have everything you need, and others don't." She goes on to wonder, "Who decided toilet paper was free, but tampons weren't? Soap is free, paper towels, seat covers, but tampons and pads are not?"

Access to menstrual products is critical to college students' mental and physical health. The number of colleges and universities that provide free menstrual products is increasing, offering support to thousands of students.

What Is Period Poverty?

Period poverty refers to the difficulty of affording and accessing menstrual products. The cost of menstrual products can decrease accessibility to items such as pads, panty liners, tampons, menstrual cups, pain medication, and underwear.

At least 500 million women experience period poverty worldwide every month. Individuals lacking access to menstrual products report experiencing depression at higher rates. Mental health challenges can further impact education, school attendance, and economic opportunity.

Period equity — providing affordable, safe, and easily accessible menstrual products — is growing in importance across the country, the globe, and on college campuses. Menstruation education and access to hygiene-friendly waste locations are also important factors of period equity.

  What impact can free period products have on students' well-being?

Supporting students with freely accessible period products not only improves the educational experience, but it alleviates the financial burden and stress when the sudden need for a product arises. The bigger picture ... is that access to period products and menstrual health education is a matter of human dignity. Everyone deserves to achieve their full humanity, regardless of a natural need.

— Source: Aunt Flow

The Movement Toward Period Equity

Students across the nation are pushing school administrators, politicians, and lawmakers to improve period equity. Providing free menstrual products in public restrooms leads to period equity on college campuses and across the country.

Kramer goes on to state, "College students, and anyone who menstruates, have no idea exactly when their period is going to start. A lack of supplies turns an unexpected physical need into an overwhelming emotional ordeal."

The University of Michigan recently announced that it will offer free period products in public restrooms on its Ann Arbor campus. This message aligns with a citywide ordinance requiring free menstrual products in public bathrooms. Students at the university pushed for dorms and academic buildings to also offer menstrual products in their bathrooms.

In recent years, protests and legal action fighting to end taxation on menstrual products have also increased.

As of May 2022, 26 U.S. states still place a tax on period products — claiming them as luxury items rather than tax-exempt necessities. While schools do not regulate state taxes, students are joining the fight to end taxation on menstrual products.

At a time when stress is at an all-time high, one simple step each college and university can take to ease anxiety is to make all public campus restrooms stocked with freely accessible menstrual support products to ensure restroom equality.

— Source: Nancy Kramer

Menstrual Equity for All Act

The Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021 strives "to increase the availability and affordability of menstrual products for individuals with limited access." Congresswoman Grace Meng of New York introduced the federal bill in the House of Representatives, citing the necessity of menstrual products and the adverse effects of period poverty.

States and cities across the country are also attempting to pass laws supporting period equity. Five states currently have laws that require free access to period products in public schools. Colorado recently passed into law grant funding for public schools to stock period products for students.

However, most state legislation that uplifts free menstrual products refers specifically to K-12 public education facilities. Colleges and universities seeking to support their students and period equity must work with administrators on campus to fund these efforts.

  What can colleges do to support menstruation education?

Colleges can include mandatory workshops about menstrual health and menstrual disorders as part of their curriculum. They can spread awareness of places students can receive period products on campus in the event of an unplanned period or not being able to afford period products.

— Source: Aunt Flow

How to Improve Access to Period Products on College Campuses

Students without access to period products may resort to unsanitary or potentially harmful methods to manage their menstruation. Some may choose to use products longer than is healthy or safe. Some may use other materials to replace inaccessible period products, and others may forgo using products altogether.

For students, stress, worry, and stigma can increase the negative impacts of costly and inaccessible period products. Colleges can engage students of all genders in education to improve understanding and help reduce stigmas associated with menstruation.

Through various methods, students can help improve access to period products on campus and nationwide. Consider these ways to get involved.

Ways to Get Involved

  • Review the American College of Physicians' advocacy toolkit. Share this resource with students, faculty, and administrators to improve education about the needs of period products on campus.
  • Contact your state representatives. Urge your Congress members to pass the Menstrual Equity for All Act.
  • Get involved with organizations doing work toward period equity. Period.org operates chapters in 40 states and over 20 countries, with individual advocacy opportunities also available

Improving access to period products can begin with small, individual steps that lead to large, global change. Colleges and universities that support period equity by providing free period products can help end period poverty.

Frequently Asked Questions About Period Products

How can I get free menstrual products?

Free menstrual products can be found in some community centers and health clinics. Few states provide freely accessible menstrual products in public bathrooms. Some organizations -- like #HappyPeriod and Women in Training -- help individuals access period products. Ask for free period products at nurse's offices or counseling centers.

How many states provide free menstrual products in schools?

Five states currently require free period products to remain available in all public school bathrooms. New York, Illinois, New Hampshire, California, and Virginia passed laws to implement free access to menstrual products.

Colorado passed legislation that gives funding to public schools for period products. This funding supports free access to menstrual products for all public school students.

Who is most affected by period poverty?

Nearly 2 billion people menstruate every month worldwide. Limited access to clean water, waste facilities, and period products can contribute to period poverty.

People living in financial poverty or with less access to monetary resources are more likely to encounter period poverty. However, any menstruating person can be impacted by period poverty.

Lack of education can lead to stigma or shame about the natural menstruation process. And period product costs can limit access to necessary menstruation materials.


With Advice From:

Portrait of Nancy Kramer

Nancy Kramer

Founder, Free the Tampons

Recognized by Advertising Age as one of the "100 Most Influential Women in Advertising History," Nancy Kramer has spent a lifetime as an entrepreneur in marketing and technology.

Kramer launched her own business, Resource, in 1981 with seed funding from her first client, Apple Computer. Her team's iconic work includes many industry firsts, from creating Apple's first interactive retail experience, to launching one of the internet's first live streaming events which is memorialized in a time capsule at MIT to the first fully integrated social commerce experience, which received a U.S. patent. She created and produced two Superbowl commercials.

In 2016, IBM acquired her 350-person, multi-office business, where today Kramer serves as Chief Evangelist.

Kramer is an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, having testified in front of a Congress in support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. She is also the founder of the Free the Tampons campaign which has launched a national discussion about access to menstrual support products in public restrooms.


Portrait of Aunt Flow

Aunt Flow

Founded by Claire Coder in 2016, Aunt Flow ensures everyone has access to period products. Aunt Flow is the most efficient solution to provide period products for free to employees, students, and guests. Aunt Flow offers a variety of 100% organic, high-quality period products as well as a free-vend menstrual product dispenser system that is now stocked in thousands of bathrooms in locations like nationwide K-12 schools, Princeton University, Google, Viacom, and more. Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, we are a remote-based team across the US. Over 900 businesses have joined the menstrual movement with Aunt Flow! Our patented period product dispensers are internationally acclaimed, receiving the ISSA Show 2021 Choice Award and The Sustainable Company of the Year 2021. Aunt Flow has been recognized as the Best Woman-Owned Brand by NBC.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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