A new study by researchers at George Mason University concluded that approximately 14% of university students experienced period poverty in the past year. This indicates that period poverty, the lack of ability to pay for menstrual products, is a concern for low-income women living in high-income countries like the U.S. At CU Denver, the Student Government Association (SGA), along with various campus partners, raised awareness of this issue in 2019—and did something about it.
It all started with a mysterious flyer. Frida Silva ’20, vice president of SGA during the past academic year, spotted flyers around campus asking for the administration to offer free period products. After some investigation, Silva tracked down the flyer’s author, student Esther Bellinsky.
Bellinsky met with SGA leaders, including Silva. “She identified there was a need to provide menstrual products on campus—free of charge, free of obstacles,” Silva said. Prior to meeting Bellinsky, Silva had never considered period products to be a basic need. “I honestly didn’t know it was an issue. She brought it to my attention in a very strategic way: she asked me if I’d ever been on campus and didn’t have any period products when I needed them—and that jogged my memory,” Silva said. “Yes, I have faced that, so many of us have faced that.”
Matthew Kriese, who also served in SGA last year had to educate himself on the topic. “When Frida first spoke to me about this initiative, I was shocked that this service wasn’t already provided to students, faculty, and staff here at CU Denver.”
Menstrual Products Are Not a Luxury
“We have toilet paper and soap readily available—menstrual products should be the same. Why is it that we treat this as a luxury?” Silva asked. Other women responded to the SGA survey with similar anecdotes. “I find it inconsiderate and unjust that we don’t have tampon dispensers in the bathrooms,” History Professor Emerita Pamela Laird, PhD, said. “Men don’t have to rush around frantically looking for tampons, making themselves late for class.”
In fact, the link between menstruation and education is well documented. According to the 2018 Always Confidence & Puberty Survey, nearly one in five American girls has either left school early or missed school entirely because they didn’t have access to menstrual products. The numbers are far greater in developing nations.
Silva and SGA members researched free period product models at other universities (including CU Boulder, Colorado State University, Yale, and Stanford) and gathered information directly from campus community members. “That was the fun part of this project—talking to stakeholders, students, faculty council, administrators, really getting their support,” Silva said.
SGA Gets Funding for Period Products
Their findings formed the basis of an SGA proposal to provide period product dispensers in high-traffic areas around campus. “Menstrual management is a fundamental human right, yet cultural customs and stigmas and lack of resources often prevent girls and women from dealing with their menstrual needs with dignity,” the proposal stated.
But it’s not just women who need period products. Kriese, who now works as an admissions counselor, emphasized that the program was inclusive in its design. “I was also educated on the need for initiatives like this that are seemingly gendered to be fully inclusive of our campus community. I initially made the mistake of thinking that this initiative was only for women, but in fact there is a significant non-female identifying population on campus that also require these services,” he said.
Silva looks back on the effort as a real success. “In the educational setting, know that you have power, even if it seems like you don’t,” she said. “Students are essential in academic spaces; it felt so appropriate to get our proposal approved by the students, for the students.”