economic backgrounds do not have to announce to the class that they have to go to the nurse’s
office. Thus, when young women have to excuse themselves from class to go to the nurse’s office,
not only do they reveal to their fellow students that they are going through their menstrual cycle,
but also inadvertently disclose their socio-economic status. Women should not be made to feel
embarrassed or ashamed of their natural biological processes.
III. HEALTH AND HYGIENE CONCERNS
In addition to the unequal access to education, low-income women with lack of access to
adequate feminine hygiene products are at a significant risk for infection and disease. Women who
cannot afford feminine hygiene products report that they use toilet paper, towels, rags, and dirty
socks as substitutes for proper feminine products. Women who cannot afford a plentiful supply of
tampons are forced to leave in tampons longer, which puts them at high risk of toxic shock
syndrome among other health issues.
As well as the concern for the health and safety of these young women, many advocates
for free feminine hygiene products have argued that feminine hygiene products should be available
for free in every restroom, as this is a natural health concern. Many activists believe that feminine
hygiene products should be treated similarly to toilet paper as they serve the same purpose of
tending to our normal bodily functions.
Furthermore, activists believe that schools should be enabling students to use proper
hygiene practices. Schools are often thought of as a catalyst in a young person’s life. Schools
attempt to teach students proper hygiene practices through providing toilet paper, soap, and hand
dryers for children in the bathrooms. By failing to provide free feminine hygiene products, activists
argue, schools are neglecting to teach young women about natural female biological processes and
their related proper hygiene practices.
Recently, there has been a shift in legislation towards providing free feminine hygiene
products to young women in public schools. As First Lady Michelle Obama mentioned at the
World Bank Spring Meeting in April of 2016, and in her writings, the inability to afford menstrual
products can affect a young woman’s productivity in school. Michelle Obama believes no one
“should have to miss school, risk her health, or compromise her dignity because of menstruation.”
Since she spoke out on this issue, Illinois has introduced Public Act 100-0163, or the “Learn with
Dignity Act.” The Act requires that Illinois public schools, which include charter schools, make
feminine hygiene products available at no cost to the students. This includes over 4,000 schools.
The products must be provided in the bathrooms of school buildings and for students of grades six
through twelve. This Act went into effect on January 1, 2018. Lawmakers did not provide a budget
or money for districts to comply with the new requirement, but some school districts have
anticipated a low-cost effect. Many Illinois school districts had previously been providing students
with free products through the nurse’s office and the only cost would be obtaining dispensers, as
the products are already built into the existing budget.