Senate Bill 5070: Addressing Period Poverty in Washington Schools
Updated: Jan 16, 2021
It was the first day of high school and out of nowhere, my period started. Being a freshman at a new school, I had no idea where to go or who to ask for a period product. So, using the first thing I could find, I wrapped toilet paper in the place of a pad.
This is nothing new to menstruators experiencing period poverty at school, work, or those experiencing homelessness. According to a Thinx study,
1 in 5 teens have struggled to afford period products or have not been able to purchase them at all, and more than 80 percent of teens reported either missing time in class or knowing someone who has missed time in class due to lack of access to menstrual hygiene products.
Many people stretch products for hours longer than the recommended time or use toilet paper, cardboard, and even socks as alternatives. Students’ inability to manage their menstrual hygiene in school results in absenteeism, which has severe economic costs on their lives.
This is where Washington State Senate Bill 5070 and House Bill 1273 come in. Prime sponsored by Senator Ann Rivers and Representative Caldier Berg respectively, these bill aim to make menstrual hygiene products available at no cost in gender-neutral bathrooms and bathrooms designated for female students in all 6-12 schools and institutions of higher education (colleges, universities, trade schools, etc.) in Washington State.
With pads and tampons available for free to students in all bathrooms, focusing on schoolwork and education would become much easier, leading to higher attendance rates. Menstruators would no longer need to worry about potential embarrassment when asking the nurse or their peers for period products.
Washington isn’t the first state to introduce a bill fighting for menstrual equity in schools. In 2019, New Hampshire passed a similar bill (SB 142), requiring menstrual hygiene products to be provided, free of charge, in female bathrooms located in public high schools. In 2017, California passed Assembly Bill 10, which required schools that meet “a 40% pupil poverty threshold” to provide free period products in their bathrooms.
Even within Washington, many schools and school districts already provide free period products in their bathrooms, including the University of Washington, Bellevue School District, and Mukilteo School District. These free product programs are donation-based, and SB 5070 proposes that schools would still be responsible for the costs of providing products — a clause of the bill that has significant room for improvement — through community partnerships or non-profit grants. However, the new bill would establish this best practice as the norm, a critical precedent in the fight for menstrual equity.
Join us in this fight by writing to your state representatives about SB 5070 and spreading the word to friends and family. Washington has a chance to lead the nation by example. By providing all students an equal chance at education, we will not only push forward gender equality, but also create a stronger and healthier state.
Ramya is the co-lead organizer of WA for Menstrual Equity. She is a senior at Kamiak High School and an incoming freshman at Barnard College.
Jinyang/Alice is a senior at Kamiak High School and the co-lead organization for WA for Menstrual Equity. When she’s not talking to legislators, she is coding, reading, and watching anime!