EDITORIAL: Crimson wave too expensive to ride
Universities address problem of costly feminine hygiene products
They say the best things in life are free, but so many of life’s necessities aren’t free — things like pads and tampons.
Contrary to U.S. tax codes (specifically the tampon tax) that determined feminine sanitary products are luxury items, these products are necessary to the lives of half of the human population. About 3.52 billion people in the world are required to pay extra money (and in the U.S., they're additionally taxed on top of the initial cost) so they aren’t prevented from effectively participating in commonplace activities, such as going to school or work. Menstruation is a messy, but natural monthly cycle. It significantly and asymmetrically burdens one of the sexes.
Recently the Rutgers University Student Assembly (RUSA) announced that it’s considering the free distribution of tampons and pads in bathrooms, inspired by Brown University’s student government representatives pioneering the initiative in the beginning of the academic year. Providing free feminine sanitary products is a progressive statement that considers the different experiences of men and women, but is also sensitive to the experiences of trans individuals, so feminine sanitary products will be provided in both men's and women's bathrooms.
While RUSA hasn’t committed to anything just yet, it is incredible that this conversation is happening in the first place. For years, women’s issues have been ignored, so over time discussions about menstruation became obscured, mysterious and distorted to the point of becoming taboo. Yet as long as procreation and the promulgation of the human race continue, the menstrual cycle will also continue. It’s a normal function of the female body, shedding uterine lining and preparing for the next month’s potential fertilization. Because it is so normal, conversations about this bodily function shouldn’t be stigmatized. RUSA’s deliberation on this topic extends the discussion to the public, and so it raises the possibility that healthy and open discussions about menstruation can be normalized for this generation’s students.
College students are notoriously weighed down by enormous debt, so some students might really struggle paying for those extra few dollars on feminine hygiene products. Access to feminine hygiene products within the University setting is limited. Tampon and pad dispensers are available in most of the University’s bathrooms, but students have to pay a dollar or less — if the dispenser is even stocked. During times of emergency due to an unexpected period, students might not be close a convenience store or their home to pick up a pad or tampon, and they’re forced to go out of their way to obtain one. And when students happen to be close to convenience stores, the stores hike up the prices because they monopolize on the fact that they might be the only convenience store around. Rutgers falls short in serving its students and providing accessible tampons and pads.
Compared to Brown’s $3.3 billion endowment for a handful of students, Rutgers’ $1 billion endowment spread thin among tens of thousands of students looks measly. It’s a well-known fact that our University lacks the resources Ivy Leagues and private schools have. But Rutgers, with whatever little it has, represents an institution that serves the public and the masses. Even if the University is unable to pay for brand name feminine hygiene products the way Brown does, it would do a lot of service if it paid for generic products that are free to students. It may face the problem of some students taking some home, but usually the ones taking them need them more than others and the rest who prefer their own brands will opt out and use their own.
Aside from the obvious sanitary and health benefits Rutgers would be promoting by making pads and tampons free, it will build of social capital for the University. Rutgers will be one of the institutions respected for creating an inclusive environment, and helping students focus on their education instead of worrying about how they can’t afford to tampon or pad at hand.
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