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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Opinion

Staff editorial: UH should provide free tampons, pads


As Houston Cougars, we bleed red — in more ways than one.

Not everyone bleeds once a month. A variety of factors such as sex, age, pregnancy, birth control and other factors like weight and diet can prevent menstrual cycles.

But the experience is so prevalent and so inconvenient that products used to contain its effects, like tampons and pads, should be available throughout campus restrooms and free.

Women and others who menstruate are ubiquitously expected to be prepared when the bleeding starts by carrying their own products. Smartphone apps like Clue can help people track their periods and estimate when their next cycles will start, and regular PMS symptoms allow some people to guess that timing down to the hour.

But still, human bodies are frustratingly unpredictable. Eighty-six percent of menstruating people have been caught unprepared by a period while in public, according to non-profit Free the Tampons.

The University of Houston is ill-equipped to handle menstruation. Students have just three options once realizing their cycle has started.

Option One: Hope the restroom they’ve run into has a dispenser, which also happens to be working, which also happens to be stocked. The student must also happen to be carrying a quarter with them into the bathroom.

The Student Government Association conducted a full review of campus bathrooms, and Deputy Chief of Staff Winni Zhang said they found more than 60 percent had neglected, broken or missing dispensers.

When Option One fails, products are available for sale at campus convenience stores at $3.49 for a pack of ten. Getting through the day’s public appearances typically requires only one or two products, so students are paying $3.49, plus tax, for one day when they choose Option Two.

Option three? Trek across UH to the Wellness Center (housed within the Campus Rec), where pads and tampons are free to use. Tucked away in the corner of campus, the Rec is furthest away from the classroom buildings students frequent most.

In December 2016, the Student Government Association created a fourth option. In a two-week trial run, its representatives stocked pads and tampons in women’s and family bathrooms at the Student Center in small baskets. According to Zhang, who led the effort, the trial was a huge hit. Some students even donated their own extra products to the countertop baskets, she said.

This program should be expanded throughout campus and integrated into UH Facilities’ operating budget. That our student representatives deemed it necessary to donate their time to restocking menstrual products every four hours for two weeks is amazing, but it should not be their responsibility.

Yes, there is a cost associated with addressing this problem. However, the University should consider tampons and pads just as necessary to student wellness as toilet paper, soap and paper towels.

The products should be restocked as bathrooms are cleaned each night by janitors, not by students in SGA.

Several other universities have implemented such a plan. The University of Minnesota and University of Nebraska at Lincoln, among others, offer free menstrual products. In July, the state of New York began offering free products in all public schools, homeless shelters and female prisons, prompting Brown University’s student government to embark on a similar mission.

At UH, we’re uniquely poised to set a precedent for the entire state. No other Texas university offers free pads or tampons. Texas State University stopped restocking dispensers in 2010 because they lacked funding. As a public institution, investing taxpayer monies on necessary hygiene products can set a standard for other state agencies and private businesses’ policies.

For too long, feminine bleeding has been a roadblock to education. Historically and even today, many girls are barred from attending school during their menstrual cycles. They’re deemed unclean and unfit to exist in a public sphere.

It would be fitting to counteract these practices by completely preventing a period from interrupting students’ educations at UH.

If funding is a problem, perhaps the University should consider adding “Daily Student Hygiene” to its limited list of priorities donors can choose from to target their philanthropy. Until then, it will be clear the University’s priorities don’t lie with student necessities.

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