I don’t think it’s a highly disputed fact that menstrual hygiene products (MHPs) are TOO expensive. We didn’t ASK to bleed all over the place every. single. month, and while there are ways to stop or lighten our periods, these methods aren’t right for everyone.
Kadiatou Balde, a at SUNY Potsdam, and Student Government Association (SGA) President, knows firsthand the financial toll that menstrual hygiene products take on students, who are already ballin’ on a budget. She sees the growing national concern over the cost of menstrual hygiene products, which are often seen as a privilege rather than a right. So, she decided to use her title of SGA President for the greater good.
Kadiatou realized that a number of other universities including Brown, Cornell, Bucknell, Duke, University of Connecticut, and University of Wisconsin, Madison had all implemented programs that provided free menstrual hygiene products in their restrooms, and she called on SUNY Potsdam to take the challenge. She laid the whole program out in a neat proposal, including the department that would fund the initiative, the locations of bathrooms that should be stocked, and the price of the products. Now she’s happy to report that SUNY Potsdam is off and running with their pilot program.
Multiple schools have contacted Kadiatou to learn more about the program, and to get some direction on how to go about setting up an initiative like this. Because Kadiatou is passionate about community development and helping others, she wanted to spread the message that running a program like this is possible for both public and private schools, and we got some inside info on the process, in case anyone out there is considering undertaking a similar initiative.
UNiDAYS (U): Why did the issue of menstrual product availability stand out to you?
Kadiatou Balde (KB): As a menstruator myself, this initiative to provide free menstrual hygiene products is of no surprise. There were many instances where I found myself in emergency situations without MHPs. Sometimes these emergencies took place while I was in class, and as a commuter I was left with two choices: skip the rest of my classes and return home or go to the health clinic as if I were sick (which, by the way was only open till 4 pm).
Even before college, always carrying pads around or having to use creative measures for a natural process that the majority of our global population is experiencing was always absurd to me. Menstrual hygiene products are as essential as toilet paper, and our lack of accessibility of such products only aids to negative stigmas and, according to multiple personal narratives from my fellow students, it hinders student participation in school. This led to our proposal of a pilot program to provide free menstrual hygiene products in six nonresidential building restrooms.
U: What was the process like to get this initiative put in place? Did you face push-backs and difficulties along the way?
KB: The process was not as hard as I had anticipated, and we did not face any pushback because we had all of our bases covered, so there was no room for loopholes.
My SGA executive board rolled with the idea and reached out to our student body to see whether this is something they were interested in tackling with us. Luckily, they loved the idea and thanked us heavily for being mindful to such phenomena. Upon getting their help with finding locations and types of products, my team and I overwrote and revised a concise proposal to our President's office.
Originally, this MHP pilot program was to be funded by our SGA, but then we decided that it made better sense for the funds to come from our facilities management budget, funded by the administration just like other necessary toiletries.
Our proposal expressed the need for MHP, examples of other school's that have accomplished it, types of products, most needed locations, and departments that should manage them. Once it was complete, I simply sent the proposals to our administrative departments and met with our president and chief diversity officer to express our need. Our liberal arts college greatly values shared governance between departments and organizations, and so including them in a strategic and organized fashion led to our immediate success.
U: What advice do you have for someone looking to run a program like this on their campus?
KB: With any project, especially one as important as free menstrual hygiene products, you must be strategic and understand that proper planning and collaboration is key to any success story. You do not have to be a part of your student government to advocate for this, but it would help a lot as it will connect you to your student body and allow you to direct this initiative to their needs. Then create a detailed proposal and collaborate with the departments that will fund the pilot program and be sure to see it through.
I am calling out to all student leaders in America and around the world to advocate for free menstrual hygiene products - impact can begin at your school.
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