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The Implementation of Deserved Rights

Many women can relate to this scenario: A college-aged girl is running late to class, already late due to pushing snooze one too many times, and once it is time to walk up the stairs, it is there, her period. As she makes her way to the nearest bathroom, she is faced with no help, no menstrual products. She must make her way back home, missing class, now falling behind on her work. 

However, with new implementations at Ohio University, there are now options for female students. Aunt Flow, a Columbus, Ohio, based organization promoting the access to free menstrual products, has partnered with Ohio U and other places in the United States to start a change in the distribution of menstrual products. 

Ohio U’s Student Senate has carried this action over the past years, and it is now in full swing. Nate Padilla, graduate assistant for Ohio U’s Student Senate, said people do not think about menstrual products as much as they should. 

“I feel like if you’re going to be a college institution, you should be focusing on the holistic image of your students, meaning don’t just focus on their education but who they are personally, what they’re going through personally, and how to aid them in their own personal endeavors,” Padilla said. “Even though it’s a small thing to provide menstrual products, it can make a huge impact on students’ lives to know their institution’s there for them in multiple aspects of themselves.”

In the women’s restrooms of Baker University Center and Alden Library, these menstrual products have relieved a daunting stress for some people who menstruate. Betsy Kunstel, an instructor of women gender and sexuality studies at Ohio U, said this initiative not only adds relief but is a “community-minded thing to do.” 

“As a person who menstruates, I have had my share of experiences without having menstrual products when I’ve needed them unexpectedly,” Kunstel said in an email. “I’ve also been a person who has left extra pads and tampons in restrooms when I’ve had them.”

However, questions arise when asked why Ohio U and other places throughout the nation are implementing these products in their bathrooms. 

Ohio U currently only has products in its women’s restrooms, limiting access for those who do not identify with the female gender.

Zeljana Opacak, an executive assistant at Aunt Flow, said this is one of the reasons Aunt Flow started, for equality is of utmost concern for the employees at Aunt Flow. 

Although those who do not menstruate do not have as much of an understanding, they also do not understand the variety of people who menstruate. When thinking of those who have a period, many only think of women because of one inherited stigma: only women can have periods.

“Empowered people, empower others,” Opacak said. “In that sense, also going into our gender-inclusive language … as far as how I feel, it was really important to me to land in a position where there was that aspect of giving back and able to be helping each other. There might be some people [who] identify as different genders and [we want them] to be included in the initiative that we have.”

Like Opacak, Kunstel said she does not need a female symbol or pink packaging for her menstrual products, which would ultimately help relieve the stigma that only females menstruate. 

The cost of menstrual products has been a forefront issue for an elongated amount of time. The “Pink Tax,” or “Tampon Tax,” has taken a toll on the people of America since the beginning of time, but, as of recent years, the fight for free menstrual products has been illuminated. This tax is not a further expense, but rather feels like a payment for being a person who menstruates.

“I’ve been a student and a professional, and I’ve traveled and been part of a family; and at no point in any of those roles has it been considered acceptable for me not to control my menstruation,” Kunstel said in an email. “Pads and tampons are basic necessities for the society we live in – and menstruating people are unduly burdened by the cost. That’s just common sense. Think of the spending power menstruating people would have if they didn’t have to pay for menstrual products over the course of potentially 35-40 years. Taxing those products to boot is utterly unjust.”

In May of 2021, Marie Claire released an article, “The Fight for Menstrual Equity Continues in 2021,” saying 30 out of 50 states still taxed essential menstrual products, with the government raking about $125 million from the controversial tax. 

Although the year has been filled with uncertainty, periods have remained the same, and the demand for menstrual products has not changed. However, with the inflation of pricing on necessary products due to the coronavirus pandemic, the cost of menstrual products is more taxing than before.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included the intention of reclassifying menstrual products as qualified medical expenses.  This act already included contact solution and sunscreen, yet menstrual products were nowhere to be found. 

In the Marie Claire article, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf wrote about how she coined the term: “Period Equity.” Period equity means fully achieving the meaning of the Equal Rights Amendment: to make sure menstruation does not make life harder.

Because of the additional tax on period products on top of the cost of them, many people financially suffer, leading to “Period Poverty.” Menstrual health is not only a women’s issue, and in Global Citizen’s article “Period Poverty: Everything You Need to Know,” one will learn what basic, essential sanitation needs are and how access to these products is difficult to find in developing countries. 

Erica Sánchez and Leah Rodriguez wrote about how poor menstrual hygiene leads to several other health issues, like reproduction issues and tract infections. Access to human health is a basic of human rights, this is a belief Aunt Flow reflects as well.

Opacak said Aunt Flow has been up and running since 2016 after the owner, Claire Coder, found herself in despair after getting her period in public and having no pads or tampons at her disposal.

Through Aunt Flow’s initiative, it has branched off to become a donation program as well. For every 10 Aunt Flow items sold, one is donated. At the end of a calendar year, Aunt Flow distributes 10% of the Aunt Flow products to organizations Aunt Flow has worked with.

“[There are] lots of really cool partnerships that we’re working toward – forever getting Aunt Flow on people’s minds and kind of bringing this issue to light,” Opacak said. “I’m sure a lot of people that might not have experienced menstruation … don’t understand some of the issues that come along with it.”

Opacak said Aunt Flow hopes to increase its revenue from this year’s 10 million and continue to build an understanding of gender inclusivity.

Padilla said this issue is an up-and-coming action Student Senate will address.

“We are actually looking to expand the menstrual products to the men’s restrooms, that’s kind of like the next step right now ­– putting them into more bathrooms rather than just the women’s restrooms,” Padilla said. “I’ve been working with our LGBTQIA+ commissioner and asked her for her opinion, to see if maybe anyone that’s come into the LGBT Center with concerns of them not being in more than just a women’s restroom.”

Padilla hopes to see the program flourish, which would include implementing the products into more university-oriented buildings. 

However, the next course of action would involve moving up from tax-free to completely free. 

Ohio U’s implementation has been positive for many students and has provided a sense of relief for those who unexpectedly receive a visit from their monthly friend. 

Currently, Padilla and Ohio U’s Student Senate are working to take the next step in this project locally, as Aunt Flow is working to expand its business nationally while maintaining intimate relations with anyone it works with.