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Additional proposals for menstrual equality in schools advance

Savannah Harriman-Pote

Menstruation can add lots of stress to a teenage student’s life, especially if obtaining period products is a financial challenge.

Not everyone can afford to regularly purchase pads or tampons. For many teenagers just starting their periods, the topic can be embarrassing to bring up.

The unavailability of period products and an inadequate sexual education curriculum contribute to many students feeling unprepared for their periods.

A survey by the Hawaiʻi State Commission on the Status of Women and the nonprofit organization Maʻi Movement Hawaiʻi showed half of respondents missed school or work because of their period.

Sarah Kern is a science teacher at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Kauaʻi. She said, "I’ve had students get their first period in seventh grade, and like think they were injured because they didn’t know what that was. Some students are well prepared but I would guess they have some education coming from home."

Measures like HB2249 would provide free period products for public and charter school students.

Maʻi Movement Hawaiʻi supplied free period products to several schools across the state in a pilot research project addressing menstrual inequality.

An anonymous eighth grade student attending Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School said the project kept a stock of supplies in the girl’s bathroom. "Because I have to buy my own period products myself, they help out a lot. They’re almost empty every day," she told HPR.

Dozens of middle school and high school students testified in support of HB2249. The bill passed its hearing with the Committee on Education, and will move on to the Committee on Finance.

As a teacher, Kern says she hopes to see everyone who menstruates have access to free period products, not just students.

"Everyone who has a period has at least one if not multiple stories of times when they have not been prepared, or they had an accident at least that went beyond. And so to just support menstruators all over the place, it's a biological thing that happens. You can't prevent it. You can't control it. It should be like toilet paper to me and it should be provided everywhere," said Kern.

Besides HB2249, SB2821 and SB2546 would also provide free period products at schools. SB2821 passed its second hearing, and SB2546 passed its first reading.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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