Going to class dealing with mood swings, cramps, and headaches is already bad enough, but imagine having to go through the school day, or even taking an exam, in bloodstained pants due to a lack of accessible period products.
Feelings of discomfort and stress when walking all the way across a campus for a pad or tampon, having to resort to using a wad of toilet paper instead, or leaving school to deal with blood-soaked clothes are experiences that many menstruators deal with regularly. These are some of the personal testimonies that inspired second-year politics major Amanda Safi to begin her period equity activism.
As a senior in high school, Safi launched the Period Project in March 2022 with the purpose of promoting period equity in public schools through ensuring menstrual products such as pads, liners, and tampons are free and easily accessible to students. However, she has not stopped there — since then, she has helped to pass major state legislation and brought her fight for menstrual equity to the UC Santa Cruz campus.
Her nearly two-year-long advocacy journey was spurred into action by an Instagram post calling attention to the disparity between access to condoms and menstrual products in high schools. As a result, Safi was inspired to reach out to her menstruating classmates about their lack of access to period products.
Period poverty, which is defined as the lack of access to adequate menstrual products and education, has many adverse affects on menstruating students’ well-being. The ACLU reports that period poverty-related school absences often lead to major academic performance gaps.
Period equity, or menstrual equity, refers to having equal access to free period products regardless of one’s gender, and, in turn, dispelling existing stigmas around menstruation.
“It’s unfair that condoms are free in schools, but period products aren’t,” Safi said. “We have to go to the nurse’s office or put in a quarter in the dispenser machines in the bathrooms,”
As the daughter of a traditional Syrian immigrant family, Safi notes that her parents took almost a year to begin supporting her work, believing that the topic of menstruation should be kept strictly under wraps. She credits this clash of values between them as another major cause for her start in advocacy.
“In some sense, me doing this work is almost a protest, because it’s not expected of me to even talk about periods out loud,” Safi reflected.
Period Poverty Facts and Statistics
– 16.9 million menstruating individuals live in poverty in the United States.
– A 2021 study found that 14.2 percent of college-aged menstruators experienced period poverty in the past year, while 10 percent experienced it every month.
– 30 states impose a tax on period supplies.
– Menstrual supplies are NOT covered by food stamps
The Period Project partnered with Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo) and San Mateo County Supervisor Carole Groom last year to secure $20,000 in funding for the first installation of the Period Project dispensers, in addition to $5,000 that Representative Speier contributed from her own campaign funds. San Mateo High School, Jefferson High School, and South San Francisco High School in Safi’s home of San Mateo County were the first to receive dispensers under their collaboration.
“Our students should be focused on learning, not worrying about where to get a pad or tampon during class time,” an aide of Representative Speier told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this month. “Menstrual equity and educational equity go hand in hand.”
Safi took her first steps into policy work in June of 2021 after Jason Chen of the Empowerment Collective, a student-run grassroots organization, recruited her to help write a state period equity bill upon seeing an article on her work in the Chronicle.
This bill would later become Assembly Bill 367, or the Menstrual Equity for All Act, which requires all state public schools serving sixth through twelfth grade, community colleges, and California State University campuses to provide free menstruation products to students. After passing unanimously in the California Senate, A.B. 367 was signed into law on Oct. 8, 2021.
Though the bill excludes UC campuses and private universities, UCSC has already taken the first step in this journey due to Safi’s persistent push for free period products. Earlier this quarter, the first free menstrual supply dispensers were installed in all-gender restrooms on the third floor of the Bay Tree Bookstore and in the Redwood Building.
Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, Aunt Flow is a business that sells menstrual supply dispensers and 100% cotton tampons and pads to schools, offices, and more. In keeping with its mission statement of providing free period products for all menstruators, the company also donates one pad or tampon to a period equity organization for every ten sold.
Safi began her mission of bringing accessible menstrual products to UCSC by contacting Sara Djubek, Senior Director of Happiness, Sales Management, and National Enterprise Sales at Aunt Flow, the manufacturer of the new dispensers on campus.
“Amanda has a fire that cannot be put out,” declared Djubek. “She is willing to set things on fire in terms of understanding the gaps with period poverty so everyone clearly understands that this is affecting students, this is affecting menstruators, and not letting down.”
Along with the staff at Aunt Flow, Safi credits the Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students Garrett Naiman, and Assistant Dean Travis Becker, as being indispensable to achieving her goal of bringing free period products to campus.
“I’m heartened by the approach Amanda took to this, which is making sure that we have a gender-inclusive approach to period equity on this campus,” said Becker. “Frankly, it would’ve been hard for me to get behind it if that wasn’t the case.”
After this remarkable start to her work at UCSC, Safi has now started thinking in terms of her new long-term goal — a systemwide UC policy that provides free period products in restrooms. Her biggest wish for the next year is that more dispensers will be installed in restrooms throughout campus.
Safi, who has already received lots of positive recognition throughout campus as “the period girl,” is immensely hopeful for the future of her activism.
“It is a huge victory for UCSC in taking a step forward toward menstrual equity that is not only inclusive, but sustainable and environmentally conscious,” Safi said in a later email. “I can’t wait for the next chapter in the Period Project at UCSC.”