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.

Published on May 5, 2022

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The Importance of Free Period Products on College Campuses
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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

true 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.

true 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.

true 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.

Many students with mental health concerns are unaware of the resources their college offers. Campus mental health services can provide the support you need. Many students experience food and housing insecurity. Learn how these insecurities affect students. Get tips for overcoming common barriers.

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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