Nevada made history in 2019 by having the first female majority Legislature in the country. Many of us believed that with more women in the Legislative Building, issues affecting women (and children) would receive greater attention — and they have. One of the issues that deserves attention and favorable treatment from our Legislature this year is the issue of period poverty, defined as young women having a lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints.
AB224 proposes that public schools make feminine hygiene products available for free in middle school and high school bathrooms. This bill would help many young women. According to Nevada Department of Education (NDE) data, there were 128,000 female students in grades six through 12 in 2019-2020. Access to feminine hygiene products is as critical to good hygiene for almost half of the student body as is toilet paper, soap, hot water, and hand towels. According to a 2017 survey, 14 percent of women “create their own makeshift solutions.” Unfortunately, in some cases, relying on these kinds of unhygienic alternatives can cause urogenital infections, as well as toxic shock syndrome and cervical cancer. As a student myself, my memories of middle school include several embarrassing instances of having to leave class (or arrive late) to find the nurse (who was not always in her office) to ask for sanitary products, hide my stained clothes, and ask classmates who I barely knew if they had any extras I could use.
One of the main reasons many communities are pushing to expand free access to feminine hygiene products is the high cost of these goods. Many women must decide “whether to spend [their] limited income on food or menstrual hygiene products.” A 2020 Glocalities survey notes that “1 in 3 parents are concerned about their ability to afford menstrual products.” AB 224 could help many students whose families are poor and do not have many resources. This bill could also help students in foster care and homeless students (there are 10,000 homeless students in Clark County School District). In 2019-2020, about 65 percent of Nevada students qualified for free-and reduced-price lunch, which is an indicator for poverty. That included about 88,000 female students with financial need in grades 6 through 12.
AB 224 could also help improve students’ academic performance. One report found that “one in every 5 girls in the U.S. have either left school early or missed school entirely due to a lack of access to period products.” And 84 percent have missed school — or know someone who has. If feminine hygiene products were to become more readily available (at no cost) in our school bathrooms, these absences could be reduced. One research project found that “attendance increased by 2.4 percent at schools with free period products.”
While there is a lot of information about how this bill will help female students who may not have resources, it will also help female students in rural Nevada including some who live in tribal communities. Many communities do not have a Walmart at every corner and finding feminine products can be difficult. Some students in Nevada’s rural school districts have to take long, hour-long bus rides to and from school. Placing feminine hygiene products in rural schools will also help our female students in rural school districts.
One of the concerns about this bill is that making period products accessible in schools will lead to plumbing damage in the bathrooms. However, this argument does not have much merit. First, there are no reports that these sorts of incidents have happened in states that provide free feminine products in schools. Second, regardless of whether feminine products are provided by the school at no cost, they will still be used in school bathrooms. Incorrect usage and improper disposal of the products are the result of a lack of education. If students are taught how to properly dispose of their products, “misuse” becomes less of a problem. AB 224 says that the plan must “outline any curriculum a school” may provide regarding “access to menstrual products.” Schools could develop a curriculum or materials to discuss the correct ways of disposing of feminine products. In general, more education about feminine health would benefit students. The State of the Period report stated that “79 percent [of teens] feel that they need more in-depth education around menstrual health and 76 percent think [they] are taught more about the biology of frogs than the biology of the human female body in school.” This speaks to the idea that a proper education on the issue can address any concerns about this bill.
While AB 224 is a good bill that will help many of my peers, I do have one concern. The bill includes the creation of a committee to “conduct an interim study concerning access to menstrual products in middle schools, junior high schools, and high schools in the State.” While the bill language identifies many people who should serve on the committee, it does not explicitly include any youth representative to serve on this committee that will address health issues that affect young women in grades 6 through 12. How can the Legislature create a committee to talk about feminine hygiene products in schools and not include a young woman? The decision not to specifically include a youth representative is a form of adultism (defined as “the assumption that young people are inferior to adults simply because of their young age”), which is reflected in decisions to limit youths’ “access to decision-making and information.”
Legislators should amend AB 224 to explicitly include a female youth representative to participate on this committee to contribute to the discussions about access to feminine hygiene products in schools. To conclude, AB 224 is a bill that will help many young female students in Nevada, and I encourage our legislators, many of whom have young teenage daughters and granddaughters, to support it.
Oni Boulware is a ninth grader at Rancho High School in Clark County School District. She is an athlete and plays soccer and runs track.