In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools all across the country have been mandated to shut their doors indefinitely and begin the implementation of remote learning.
This sudden switch has forced many students to face an extremely unique set of challenges while also being isolated from access to essential service— like regular meals, mental health support, medical care and menstrual products—provided by their schools.
However, a California chapter of Girls Learn International (GLI)—a program of the Feminist Majority Foundation that empowers middle and high school students to advocate for human rights, equality and universal education—is looking to alleviate some of these challenges by providing free menstrual products to students in need during the COVID-19 school closures with their implementation of the Pink Box Project.
GLI’s Pink Box Project was originally introduced by Hazel Strange, a student from Lincoln High School in San Jose, California, at the recent GLI Northern California Regional Meeting before being adopted by the Sequoia chapter of Girls Learn International.
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Sophia Cattalini, co-president of the Sequoia GLI chapter, told Ms. their chapter wanted to start the Pink Box Project at Sequoia once they noticed that menstrual products on their campus were “fairly inaccessible.”
Cattalini and her peers believed that the Pink Boxes would help with “accessibility, confidentiality, and continuous education,” as students would no longer “have to go out of their way to access the products they need and can do so discreetly.”
Prior to mandated school closures, the Sequoia chapter was able to distribute about 80 boxes of menstrual products to students in need. They placed the boxes in spaces like counselors’ offices, the Teen Resource Center and any classrooms whose doors were marked with a pink Post-It note.
“At school, the products are individually placed in the boxes for quick easy ‘grab-able’ needs. One of my favorite moments in a day is when I just see a hand reach from the hallway to grab something out of my pink box that is placed on the counter by my door,” Mozelle da Costa Pinto, art instructor and GLI mentor at Sequoia, told Ms. “It makes me smile knowing someone is being helped and that they are comfortable grabbing one.”
However, when the time came for Sequoia to shut its doors, Alessandro Kashap, Sequoia GLI’s sole male member, came up with the idea of creating a system where students in need of menstrual products would be able to access them on campus even with the implementation of remote learning.
“We realized the students the pink boxes most directly serve are those students still going to school to pick-up free and reduced lunches,” said da Costa Pinto. “Therefore, we should have the pink boxes available for them at our meal pick-up site on campus.”
With social distancing measures in mind, the group acknowledged students’ fears of leaving home to get the products that they needed—and decided to create kits that are pre-packaged, individually wrapped and include five tampons and five pads per box.
Along with the Sequoia chapter, there are 10 other schools in Northern California who have begun participating in the Pink Box Program.
Groups like GLI are bringing awareness to the importance of having access to menstrual products. In support of their mission—as well as missions similar to that of the Pink Box Project—Dana Marlow, Director of I Support the Girls, an organization that collects feminine hygiene product and bra donations for those in need, notes, “Periods don’t stop for pandemics; and in times of disaster, like global pandemics, it’s easy to overlook the basic essentials folks need for their dignity.”
When schools take a look around at all of the necessary amenities to continue providing for students during closures, they must take into account the need for menstrual products for students unable to access the necessary products outside of school.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in incredible amounts of panic shopping that have left grocery and pharmacy shelves picked clean. In The New York Times, Emma Goldberg writes that “for women who usually rely on free menstrual products—from a school nurse, say—that avenue is now closed. And those who might normally get menstrual products from shelters or social service centers are coming up empty as demand has surged.”
An economic divide taking place in regard to who is able to “stock-up”—and who is forced to carry on without.
With accessibility in mind, menstrual products are a right for everyone—not a privilege for those who can afford to stock up.
According to Dr. Sameena Rahman, OB-GYN, “menstrual products access and equality should not plague any woman, particularly in a developed country like the United States.”
Even in instances where there is a lack of personal access, she says, there should always be public access.
It is also important to make sure that where there is access, there is destigmatized access; because “whether it is lack of access due to poverty or social conditions or the actual taboo of menstruating women being unclean and impure in certain cultures, many women and girls have medical and social complications that develop,” writes Rahman.
Sophia, Alessandro and the rest of the Sequoia chapter of Girls Learn International hope that the Pink Box Project can one day become a staple of Sequoia’s campus—as well as a foundational aspect of their school’s health care access.
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