What is the Menstrual Dignity Act?

Student's Perspective: Menstrual Dignity Act


Infographic explaining the details of Oregon’s new Menstrual Dignity Act.

On July 27, 2021, after months of work by legislators on both sides of the aisle, Oregon governor Kate Brown signed a bill into law that could have a profound, meaningful impact on the lives of tens of thousands of Oregonians. The bill, HB 3294, is known as the Menstrual Dignity Act, and it adds period products to the list of services public schools must provide. This bill was passed unanimously in the Oregon House, and passed 17-11 in the Oregon Senate. What was this bill, what issues does it address, and why did it have so much support?
First, some background: for decades period products have been treated as a luxury, rather than a necessity. Because of the price of these products, not everyone who needs them is able to access them. This can especially impact young people in school because they may miss days due to lack of access to the products they need. So for some, access to period products poses a barrier to education.
This is not a rare occurrence. A 2021 survey called State of the Period, conducted by Thinx & PERIOD, found that 23% of students nationwide have struggled to afford period products, and that this issue affected Latinx students more acutely than their white peers. This means that access to period products is an unnecessary economic hurdle for some of the nation’s most vulnerable students. The Menstrual Dignity Act seeks to remove this barrier by providing period products in all public school restrooms including elementary, middle and high.
“The reasoning behind this act is simple,” Roseburg High School Principal Jill Weber says. ”We [RHS] already provide all the other basic needs of students. Why not this one?” Dr. Weber also sees an opportunity to destigmatize periods and help students feel more comfortable with their own bodies, “Periods are a natural part of the human body and we need to accept that [as a society].” Because the new rules include elementary schools, students will be exposed to period products from a young age and will hopefully come to understand that periods and menstruation are a normal part of human existence.”
This sentiment was echoed by Oregon House representative Courtney Neron, who said that, “It’s surprising we haven’t done anything about these issues as a society.”
Representative Neron, (a former high school teacher), told the Orange R that, “Some of my students came to me asking for help.” Representative Neron expressed that she was inspired to work on this bill because of the amount of student support it received. She referenced house meetings open to public comment where many students of all ages stated that they wanted the bill passed because it would improve their lives and those of their peers. Representative Neron says that this show of support was ultimately what enabled HB 3294 to pass unanimously in the House.
HB 3294 was spearheaded by representative Ricki Ruiz who wanted to ensure that all students have access to the materials they need to be successful in school. Rep. Ruiz said that he was, “surprised that not all schools provide period products to their students.” Rep. Ruiz also said that he hopes this bill will help students feel more comfortable with their bodies and the natural cycles they go through.

The Menstrual Dignity Act is not an isolated bill; it is part of a broader push to normalize and destigmatize periods and menstruation. California has a similar bill and several other states are considering adopting such legislation.

— William Punches

The Menstrual Dignity Act is not an isolated bill; it is part of a broader push to normalize and destigmatize periods and menstruation. California has a similar bill and several other states are considering adopting such legislation. This comes during a time in which many groups are calling for more equitable and inclusive environments. Women’s rights groups are calling for open access to period products and are demanding that society examine its treatment of marginalized groups. The wage gap is being pushed back into the spotlight and more women are running for political offices. As the types of voices being heard become more diverse, new legislation will arise to fulfill the needs of those voices. The representatives involved in the passing of the Menstrual Dignity Act were willing to put aside their political differences to focus on an issue which transcends political parties and affects over half the population in Oregon. They listened to those they serve and followed through on efforts to address people’s needs. It would not have been possible for the bill to pass if the voices of those affected by menstruation had not been listened to.
Hopefully, the Menstrual Dignity Act will pave the way for more action in the future, action which seeks to serve the needs of all people in Oregon and which will improve the lives of future generations. The Menstrual Dignity Act will hopefully have a positive impact on the lives of Oregon’s students and help to destigmatize the natural process of menstruation.

(This article first appeared in Volume 1, Issue 1 of the print edition of the Orange R in December 2021 and in the Issue 1 flipbook published on this site in early 2022.)