By Mylika Scatliffe
When Brooke Pinto worked in the Office of the Attorney General in the District of Columbia, she promised that if she was ever in a position to do so, she would do her part to eliminate period poverty.
As defined by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Policy Lab, period poverty is “inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education, including but not limited to sanitary products, washing facilities, and waste management.”
Period poverty is the public health crisis we struggle to talk about.
According to a 2014 report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, one out of every 10 students with a menstrual cycle misses time from school due to period poverty.
“I’m confused as to why menstrual hygiene products aren’t as ubiquitous as toilet paper,” Pinto says.
Before she was a council person for Ward 2 in the District, Pinto helped to manage a group of high school and college summer interns at the attorney general’s office. One of their projects was to identify a problem and come up with a new law to address it.
A few of the students recalled how some of their friends and schoolmates were forced to miss instruction time because they could not afford menstrual products.
Making good on her pledge, Pinto focused on the issue once she was a District council member, introducing a bill called the Period Equity Act.
The first part of this bill, which was passed this fiscal year, requires the provision of free menstrual products in women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms in all middle, high, and post-secondary schools in the District, as well in at least one bathroom in elementary schools. Schools that do not have a gender-neutral bathroom must provide products in at least one men’s bathroom.
The second part of the bill requires the health curriculum standards in district schools to be updated to ensure all students are educated about menstruation, beginning in fourth grade. Both portions of the bill apply to all public, private, and charter schools.
Wishing to build further upon the work of getting the Period Equity Act passed and knowing this is an issue that particularly affects Black and other women of color, there is an additional bill called the Period Act that is scheduled for hearing on Oct. 11. The Period Act seeks to make sure there is free access to period products for women that are visiting any government building, whether it’s shelters, libraries, recreation centers, or any other government facility. It also includes private entities that lease government owned buildings.
“Making sure access to these products for free is a basic human right, and one that we, as the nation’s capital, should be supplying to all visitors to these spaces just as we do toilet paper,” Pinto says.
Maryland recently passed similar legislation mandating each municipal school board of education to ensure that all public schools provide period products, via dispensers, in women’s bathrooms. Each middle and high school is required to install at least two dispensers and one dispenser in elementary schools. This is set to take place by Oct. 11.
The Empowerment Academy is an elementary/middle school in Baltimore. As a Title I school, at least 70% of the student body comes from a family that is at or below the poverty line. Realizing, even before the recent legislation, that period poverty is a serious issue, Rochelle Cole has always kept menstrual hygiene products for the students in her room at the school.
“As the Community School Site Specialist, it’s my job to reduce barriers to learning as much as possible,” Cole says. “If something keeps a child out of the classroom, it is my job to get rid of that barrier and get that child back in the classroom.”
Empowerment Academy students have always been able to go to the school nurse or Cole’s room if they have an accident or need pads and know they will receive whatever they need, no questions asked.
Dr. Lynette Washington, Chief Operations Officer for Baltimore City Public schools, confirmed that by Aug. 1, 2025, period products will be provided in all bathrooms in middle and high schools. Individual school custodial staff will be responsible for filling and maintaining the dispensers.
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