SMITH: Fund free feminine hygiene

Barring women from essential care products negates the University’s mission of inclusivity

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Subsidized feminine hygiene should only be the beginning of the University’s pursuit to aid women’s health.

Navya Annapareddy | Cavalier Daily

Alex Cintron handily cinched the student population’s vote for Student Council President, with over 50 percent of the vote. Throughout his campaign, Cintron repeatedly emphasized, during interviews with The Cavalier Daily and in the presidential candidate forum, his desire for Student Council to provide free feminine hygiene products for students, faculty and staff. This part of Cintron’s platform is essential to transforming the University into an accommodating place for both sexes, given the particular challenges of menstruation for women on Grounds. Considering the University’s commitment to diversity, the administration should assist Cintron’s aims of expanding free feminine hygiene across the University, allowing all students — regardless of sex — the ability to learn with dignity. 

The University should examine the needs of women’s health more closely, considering that the student population is majority female. Approximately 12,000 female students attend the University at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Supplying feminine hygiene is only a primary level care for the female students. As Cintron mentions, subsidized STI testing is also a must for the student body as well as easily accessible gynecological care. However, providing free, accessible tampons and pads is a realistic starting point for a feminist restructuring of Grounds.

It is clear that programs like these are possible because the University currently subsidizes safe sex initiatives. Resident Advisors are able to pick up packages of condoms from Student Health to share with any resident in on-Grounds housing. Moreover, any student at the University can pick up free condoms on any visit to Student Health or the LGBTQ Center. While the ease of access to these materials is a wonderful opportunity for any student to practice safe sex, it also represents a deep irony — electing to have safe sex is a choice, menstruation is not. For most women at the University, monthly periods are an inevitability, not a choice. And in this case, the University is choosing to make the choice to have safe sex easier than any woman’s ability to have her period with dignity. 

The average female co-ed at University will have roughly 36 periods over the course of her time at the University. The average cost for feminine hygiene over four years roughly totals to over $252, using CVS brand tampons priced at $7 as a general baseline. This doesn’t include accessory products such as panty liners, pain relievers or heating pads. For extreme cases, such as those diagnosed with endometriosis or PCOS, medication is needed to assist with the pains and/or complications that come along with menstruation, ranging from prescription pain relief to birth control pills. These additional costs are not factored into cumulative $252. In all, this basic bodily function is extremely costly for women. 

For women of less privilege on Grounds, access to feminine hygiene can be a luxury. Going without these valuable products can turn this monthly event into absolute disaster. There’s a strong possibility of permanent or irreparable stains on clothing — another cost to the student — difficulty concentrating in class, general bodily discomfort and most of all public embarrassment. The fact that certain women are forced to endure these conditions or face financial peril is unacceptable, especially for women affiliated with the University. Overall, the University should not only aid Cintron’s mission to aid these underprivileged women, but also continue to expand women’s health for all female co-eds. 

Subsidized feminine hygiene should be the beginning of the University’s pursuit to aid women’s health. This monthly trial is universal for women, and the University should acknowledge the needs of students out of empathy and sheer pragmatism. However, there other worthy causes for the University to consider, ranging from broadening the number of providers available perform IUD insertions on Grounds to increasing staff at Student Health’s Gynecology Center. There’s already an ample health gap in reaching women’s health nationally, and the University should strive to outperform this low bar at the local level.

Talking about periods is difficult. There’s a stigma concerning women’s health that’s pervasive within all aspects of society. However, while even conversation is hard and developing public policy on this matter is even harder, these initiatives need to be acted out into fruition. The difficulty of the situation only signals the extent to which the University needs to take action to serve the community. Like Cintron suggests, the University should be an “Open University.” Let’s make it open enough to have these complicated conversations and enact a win for women’s health. 

Katherine Smith is the Senior Associate Opinion Editor at The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at k.smith@cavalierdaily.com. 

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