Jersey City’s President Barack Obama Community School (P.S. 34) will be one of two schools in the state to provide free menstrual products in a pilot program launched by The Flow Initiative and the National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County.
The organizations will work with Hospeco, a leading manufacturer of cleaning and protection products, to provide a vending machine that dispenses free sanitary napkins at P.S. 34.
Fittingly on Women’s Equality Day, Aug 26, the Jersey City Board of Education passed a resolution highlighting the program and showing appreciation for the Flow Initiative, a Hudson County grassroots nonprofit that works toward eradicating “period poverty,” establishing “menstrual equality” and elevating gender equality.
Flow Initiative founder and executive director Eiko La Boria spoke at the meeting, thanking Jersey City Board of Education Trustee Gina Verdibello, who read the resolution and has supported the initiative for the past two years.
“For me this is a milestone because when Cynthia Vazquez, my partner in this initiative, and I began this journey, assuring that students had access to period products was one of the most important things.”
The initiative addresses the needs of all students who suffer from period poverty, or a lack of access to period products, La Boria said. (The term is also used in situations where sanitary napkins and tampons are available but unaffordable for certain populations.) Since they will be provided with free products, they will not have to miss school, leave school, or feel embarrassed because they don’t have these necessities. The organization also fights to establish menstrual “equity” (which is essentially the eradication of period poverty). One example of menstrual inequity, according to the organization’s website, is the lack of government-furnished sanitary napkins and tampons in public school bathrooms.
Not all campaigns that fight period poverty mention the needs of non-binary individuals and of trans boys and men. But the Flow Initiative does, and according to Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, author of Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity, that’s key.
“Everyone and anyone who menstruates needs to be included in discussions and decisions about their own health,” she writes. “This includes creating safe environments in bathrooms (the sound of a pad or tampon wrapper opening could put the safety of trans men in danger), providing menstrual products in all bathrooms — men’s, women’s, and gender-neutral —ensuring health insurance companies appropriately cover trans men, and marketing menstrual products to all genders.”
The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, or GLSEN, would agree. Its research shows transgender and gender nonconforming students face more hostile school climates compared to other students.
From their survey of 100 girls in Jersey City, the Flow Initiative found that 28% missed school because they did not have access to sanitary napkins, 90% have needed a menstrual product while in school, 76% have had a menstrual accident while in school, and 86% believe that a lack of access to menstrual products affects one’s ability to focus and learn.
The Flow Initiative and National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County are working on language for a state bill, S692/A3388, which would provide free sanitary napkins to certain public schools paid for by Trenton.
Data from the two schools on the implications free sanitary napkins will have on students will be used in the organization’s efforts to support the bill.
The Flow Initiative’s goals also include developing “a period product access plan for all students by ensuring schools have period product dispensaries and open emergency period product distribution centers throughout the city,” according to their website.
“We have to take feedback and all that we learned from these two months back to the state and continue lobbying for this bill to be passed,” LaBoria said.