Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2022|
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The state Senate Committee on Education has advanced a bill that addresses menstrual equity and “period poverty” in Hawaii.
SB 2821 would require the Department of Education and the State Public Charter School Commission to provide menstrual products free of charge to all students.
The economic challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic have magnified menstrual inequity, according to the bill.
State Sen. Laura Acasio of Hilo held a news conference Tuesday to highlight legislative efforts to address the issue.
“The fact is that none of our kids should be without period products,” Acasio said. “As an educator myself, we know that teachers end up providing period supplies for students even though they are already working long hours and paying for other supplies.”
The bill noted that half of respondents to a statewide survey on menstruation reported missing school or work because of menstruation.
Nearly one in three respondents reported they or someone in their household experienced difficulty obtaining menstrual products due to cost, according to a 2021 study by the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women and the Ma’i Movement.
According to the bill, period products are necessary every month for half of Hawaii’s population, with menstruation starting as early as age 10.
“We already pay for hygiene products that are provided to all genders, like toilet paper, hand soap, Band-Aids, bandages,” Acasio said. “Just because periods happen to about 50% of population, why would that be reason to not provide those resources?”
Last May, Gov. David Ige issued a proclamation to bring awareness to period poverty in Hawaii.
Period poverty is the lack of access or inability to afford sanitary products used for menstruation, which is often the result of income constraints, inadequate education, cultural or societal shame or stigma, and a lack of running water or sanitary locations.
“This public health issue can adversely affect the health and well-being of people who menstruate, including students, low-income and homeless women and girls, transgender and nonbinary individuals, and incarcerated people,” according to the bill.
The DOE said in testimony that it supports the intent of SB 2821 but is worried about the financial impact.
Approximately 45,800 students identified as female are currently enrolled in grades 5-12 in Hawaii public noncharter schools. If each of these individuals uses three products per day for five days every month, and the school year lasts 10 months, it is estimated that each person would utilize 150 products per school year, according to the DOE.
The total cost for menstrual products each year is estimated by the DOE to be $961,800.
“I think financial pieces are still being worked out, but we don’t want to burden DOE with unfunded mandates,” Acasio said. “We absolutely need funding for schools and educators to provide a well-rounded education setting. It is our kuleana to support the department.”
According to the 2021 study, 42% of respondents missed class or left school because they did not have access to period products.
“The need to provide hygiene products for our students is really important, because many low-income students miss school and education because they don’t have proper supplies,” Acasio said. “That creates more barriers to access to education. It creates more inequity, and it allows privilege to dictate who has access to education and advancements.”
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