A game-changing plan by Justice High School’s student-led club focused on women’s issues to provide free menstrual products blossomed into a pilot program that seeks to support female students throughout Fairfax County high schools for the 2019-20 school year.
The idea originated last school year when the club’s former president, along with current officers such as senior co-president Fariha Tasneem, were looking to help Justice’s female students who experienced their period during school hours.
Uneasy interactions such as negotiating for a reason to leave class as well as having to explain to the school’s male nurse why they’re visiting the clinic seemed overly complex to tend to a natural bodily function. So in November 2018, Justice’s Girl Up club implemented its program after getting approval from principal Maria Eck and purchasing bins to dispense pads.
“Saying ‘I need to go to the clinic,’ some teachers don’t understand how much of an emergency [having your period] is and it’s really embarrassing to say ‘I need to go to the clinic because I need to get a pad,’” senior Zulma Solis, the club’s vice-president, said. “Putting these pads in the bathroom lets these girls say, ‘Can I go to the bathroom?’ instead and they don’t need to explain what they’re doing.”
Justice already had an abundance of pads located inside its nurse’s office. Once the club procured and assembled the bins to dispense the pads, their blueprint was quickly put into action.
According to club members who spoke with the News-Press, which included Tasneem and fellow co-president Diana Chavez Cruz, treasurer Katherine Fernandez, Layan Al-Baiti and Solis, all seniors, the program has been well-received by their classmates. So much so that bins have to be restocked on a weekly basis. Interest in the club has also skyrocketed in the past year.
Efforts to add different menstrual products required Girl Up to look for help outside of the school system.
Fairfax County Public Schools’ concerns about toxic shock syndrome prevented it from supplying funds for tampons. To accommodate the preference that some students had, the club reached out to Justice’s parent community for donations. Soon enough, tampons became a regular offering at the bins.
The club’s ambition — and execution of that ambition — eventually caught the eye of FCPS’ school board.
“[At-large school board member] Karen Keys-Gamarra came to a meeting last year because she wanted to learn more about the program and talked to the club about how this was something she was going to bring to the board,” Jen Golobich, the club’s sponsor, said. “Without the pilot here at Justice, I don’t think we would’ve gotten the county one so quickly.”
Justice’s Girl Up members have become “ambassadors” for the program, as Golobich described it, as well sought after voices for women’s issues.
Annandale High School and Falls Church High School’s Girl Up clubs reached out to see about setting up their own method of distributing menstrual products in their schools.
Tasneem and the club’s former president were invited by U.S. congresswoman Grace Meng (D – N.Y. ) to speak in front of Congress about the Menstrual Equity Bill in March.
Solis spoke on a panel at a women’s leadership summit in Washington, D.C., while Tasneem also discussed Justice’s efforts with clubs from Loudoun and Prince William counties at regional meetups.
Maybe most significantly, the club is disassembling the taboo around periods.
“In a way, it’s forbidden to talk about periods with male family members. Being in a school, in a safe space, felt like something I could do,” Al-Baiti said, with Solis adding, “As a young girl growing up, no one wants to talk about [having your period]. It’s very frustrating and scary. I feel like most girls can relate to that, but now we have the support, and more programs like this are coming out and putting it out to the public.”
Other regions are also taking action to remove any kind of obstacles female students might encounter when they have their period at school.
States such as Illinois, New York, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania and even cities such as Boston, Massachusetts, Columbus, Ohio and Toronto, Canada are requiring public schools to provide free menstrual products for their female students.
The change in attitude toward periods nationwide is well-timed for National Period Day, slated for Saturday.