Last week, the Berkeley Unified School District board unanimously approved a policy that would require all girls’ and gender-neutral bathrooms to have free menstrual products — a mark of progress on the district’s part. But what’s alarming is that the world’s “No. 1 public university” has yet to follow suit in providing this basic necessity to community members.
Students at UC Berkeley face a myriad of obstacles in obtaining menstrual products — price, accessibility and stigma around purchasing all place burdens on students. Not to mention that menstrual products are taxed like luxury items in California. All of these obstacles perpetuate the notion that menstrual products are an indulgence rather than everyday products that people require for basic hygiene.
According to UC Berkeley spokesperson Janet Gilmore, campus Facilities Services used to stock campus bathrooms with machines that sold menstrual products for 25 cents. But the campus ended this practice because “machines were frequently broken into, with money and products taken,” Gilmore said in an email. This is just further proof that the need for these products is high — a fact the campus must recognize and prioritize. Neglecting students’ reproductive health is unacceptable, especially since people most impacted by this already live at the margins. Women, nonbinary and transgender individuals already face educational barriers, let alone more hurdles in acquiring menstrual products on their own.
These obstacles especially create an educational barrier for students who are homeless or from low-income backgrounds. In California, public schools that include any combination of grades six through 12, where 40 percent of students’ families are low-income, must provide menstrual products in 50 percent of their bathrooms. At UC Berkeley, 46 percent of transfer students and 24 percent of freshmen describe themselves as working-class or low-income, according to a 2017 report. Students shouldn’t be forced to sacrifice their education and well-being because of a lack of resources to support an uncontrollable bodily function.
Why does UC Berkeley provide students with toilet paper, soap, paper towels and seat covers, but not menstrual products? The answer is clear — it’s internalized sexism and transphobia. Historically, people have viewed periods as taboo, which feeds into biased institutionalized policies.
In the past several years, students on campus have taken it upon themselves to advocate for and fund free menstrual products at UC Berkeley. The ASUC, Happy Period and the YWCA Berkeley/Oakland have held drives and raised awareness of the issue on campus. At Brown University, students institutionalized a process for the student government to stock all public bathrooms with menstrual products. This is a step in the right direction, but universities must shoulder the responsibility so student advocates don’t have to.
UC Berkeley must step up to ensure that barriers such as these don’t impact students’ education. Students already pay exorbitant tuition and fees to attend this institution — the onus must be on the campus to provide and fund menstrual products for all students.
It’s not enough to provide menstrual products in vending machines or give free samples at the Tang Center. The campus must make these products more accessible — both physically and financially. Menstrual products should be viewed as a basic necessity to provide in all public bathrooms. All individuals — regardless of gender identity — deserve equal access to menstrual products. Period.