Visible Panty Liners: The Utah Period Project
Utah Period Project has worked tirelessly to pass H.B. 162—Period Products in Schools. “It is now mandated that every single public and charter school in the state of Utah, grades K–12, must provide free and easily seen period products in female and gender neutral bathrooms.” explains Emily Bell McCormick, the founder of The Policy Project, the initiative that runs The Utah Period Project, which partnered with Aunt Flow to bring about this legislative change—making Utah one of the first states to offer free and accessible period products in schools.
The way tampons, pads and period products are dispensed in public places has been long overdue for an overhaul. These padlocked tampon traps may be the only vending machines wherein you cannot see what you’re buying or what’s in stock, not to mention these poor quality items are made with harsh chemicals and are painful to use, feeling more like a diaper than anything. Aunt Flow dispensers will now be set up in Utah public schools to provide free period products such as tampons and pads. Aunt Flow dispensers are approachable and transparent, so that, like any vending machine, you can see what’s inside of them. “Our dispensers are designed for young girls and menstruators, [making them] easy to use,” says CEO and founder of Aunt Flow, Claire Coder. “Also, for the [schools], we wanted a dispenser that was easy to reload, had high capacity and … a window so you can check on the stock.” Aunt Flow tampons and pads come in cute packages and are made from organic cotton. Moreover, these pads and tampons have been designed for comfort and mobility. “[No more] big, bulky metal boxes that you’re locked out of unless you somehow find a quarter.” says McCormick.
“One of our goals with our student ambassador program is to get students to engage with issues that are bigger than themselves.”
How does a bill like this get passed in a conservative state like Utah? Speaker Brad Wilson and McCormick worked together on a bill to get rid of the tampon tax, which passed but was later overturned. “We went back to the drawing board,” says McCormick. “I said to [Wilson] that it would be very impactful if we could get period products into schools. Speaker Wilson said, ‘Let’s do it.’” Senior leadership being on board was crucial. Additionally, the partnership between public and private sectors on funding this bill was key for bipartisan support. The Larry H. & Gail Miller Foundation and the Andrus Family Fund pledged to match what the public sector approved for this bill. The Utah Period Project also used purposeful language to rally further support. The story being that period products are a hygienic need—they aren’t scary. Toilet paper rarely conjures the same moral panic or affront to our sensibilities, and toilet paper’s purpose is to clean up a natural bodily function just the same as a tampon or pad. “Basic necessities, not amenities.” adds Coder. “Tampons are not kombucha teas or ping-pong tables. Period products should be just as accessible as toilet paper.”
Basic bathroom hygiene should be especially accessible in schools. “State of the Period, in 2021, found 23% of students struggle to afford period products. Even more astonishing, four in five students have missed class or know someone who missed class because they didn’t have access to period products,” says Coder. Starting the conversation with students through normalizing the accessibility of quality tampons and pads will empower Utah’s young girls and menstruators. For many, it could foster the ability to simply and comfortably attend class.
The Utah Period Project realized that these free and easy-to-use Aunt Flow dispensers could not address the entire scope of the need some students may have for these products. The organization hosted a “Period Party” on Sept. 13, where 300 students who had responded to Utah Period Project’s social media call for ambassadors came to help pack “period kits,” which are geared to address issues that a free dispenser might not solve for some students. “These kits include 10 pads and 10 tampons, which should get someone through the weekend,” says McCormick. She goes on to explain, “If you’re a kid experiencing need, neglect at home or experiencing homelessness, you’ve still got weekends you have to deal with. Heaven forbid you start your period on a Sunday, and now you’re too embarrassed to get on the bus Monday, so [you] don’t make it to school.” 300 students packed 100 period kits, totaling 3000 kits that were taken back to their schools for students to use and distribute.
“It is now mandated that every single public and charter school in the state of Utah, grades K–12, must provide free and easily seen period products in female and gender neutral bathrooms.”
“One of our goals with our student ambassador program is to get students to engage with issues that are bigger than themselves,” McCormick says. “We want them to learn to talk to people with authority about difficult issues and needs in the community.” The Policy Project provides leadership training for these students so that they feel equipped to advocate for these issues and build lifelong skills. Having young students feel empowered to work on issues within their own groups will have lasting effects on their confidence to engage in civic duty.
Thanks to House Bill 162, Period Products in Schools, getting your period won’t mean you can’t comfortably attend school. Keep an eye out for an Aunt Flow dispenser coming to a school near you as they roll out this year. Follow The Policy Project @thepolicyproject on Instagram and follow Aunt Flow @goauntflow.