Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024|
Share this story
In 2022, a law was passed requiring all public school campuses in the state to provide free menstrual products.
The law was implemented July 1, 2022, and according to Robin Valencia, complex academic adviser for the Hilo-Waiakea area, it has been a success.
“Students are definitely appreciative of the accessibility of the free period products,” said Valencia of the rollout. “Prior to the availability of free period products in schools, we had a number of school personnel purchasing period products out-of-pocket and providing for students in need.”
The bill estimated the total costs for implementation at roughly $961,800 annually.
The DOE sends the funds for products directly to schools for purchasing, then Hawaii Keiki Nurses assist with the education, purchasing and overall accessibility of the items.
Valencia noted the Hilo-Waiakea complex has three Hawaii Keiki Nurses.
The period products are available in health rooms throughout all campuses, with Valencia adding most schools also provide them in bathrooms and classrooms.
“The (Hilo-Waiakea) complex area has purchased baskets and containers for various areas on each school campus to help with accessibility,” she said. “A couple of our school campuses have even made period products available in every classroom.”
She added that some schools have packs of products readily available so students also can take them to-go.
Education has been key in helping students understand “period poverty,” or equity issues related to accessing the products.
A statewide survey from 2021 found that nearly one in three respondents said they or someone in their household experienced difficulty obtaining menstrual products due to the cost, and half reported missing school or work because of menstruation.
With increased availability, there have been inevitable cases of misuse of the products on campuses. But the incidents are rare and are turned into learning opportunities for the students, according to Valencia.
“There has been the occasional misuse of the products,” she said. “However, schools have been instrumental in providing education and support to curb misuse.”
Prior to legislation, the Hilo-Waiakea complex partnered with the Ma‘i Movement, a nonprofit founded by three sisters in 2020 with a mission of providing and distributing free menstrual products to people in need, while advocating for the end of period poverty.
Valencia said the partnership with the Ma‘i Movement was instrumental in providing information, awareness and free products to interested schools prior to the legislation.
“The partnerships have been invaluable in getting information out to schools and products out to students,” Valencia said. “Partnerships providing information about period equity, hygiene, and how to use and dispose of the period products, coupled with a wider distribution and availability of the products, have all helped with the implementation.”
The Ma‘i Movement is continuing with its mission and this year is advocating for two new bills that would provide free period products in the bathrooms of all state public buildings, and one that would offer free period products at all University of Hawaii campuses, community colleges and education centers.
“Research shows that 86% of people who menstruate have started their periods unexpectedly in public, and 34% have had to leave what they were doing to retrieve period products,” said Nikki-Ann Yee, co-founder of the Ma‘i Movement. “Providing free period products in public restrooms is about equity
of access for inclusion and equity of access to public facilities.”
After last year’s success, the group is optimistic both bills will make it through the Legislature.
“We received unprecedented and unanimous support from legislators to pass the K-12 bill championed by Senator Michelle Kidani,” Yee said. “With that, I am confident that we have enough momentum to keep the conversation around menstrual equity and period poverty going.”
Email Grant Phillips at email@example.com.
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *