It was simply a mean day for sophomore Shruthi Kumar in 2021 when she realized she had her interval. Naturally, she checked the ladies’s restroom in Harvard’s Science Middle for a menstrual product. What she discovered was an empty dispenser.
“I used to be like, why is that this put in right here if it’s not going to be restocked — if it’s not supporting me? And what do I do now? My choices had been to stroll throughout Harvard Yard bleeding via my pants, to go to CVS to purchase myself some, or to stroll all the way in which to Mather Home, which is my dorm, to get some from my room. Both method I’m going to be late to class,” she mentioned.
And that bought her pondering — different girls should even be operating into the identical drawback, interrupting their schooling.
“It actually opened my eyes to a necessity on campus. And led me to consider concepts of infrastructural fairness and what it means for ladies to be in instructional areas,” she mentioned. “There’s quite a lot of invisible methods wherein our system holds us again and I feel that is a type of hidden inequities that’s not as apparent as say, bodily illnesses or different forms of public well being inequities.”
In keeping with a 2018 business survey, one-third (38 %) of ladies who menstruate needed to miss occasions or actions over the course of a 12 months — similar to work, college, or an appointment — because of a scarcity of entry to menstrual merchandise. Not solely is bodily entry an issue, however affordability is as properly. In keeping with that very same survey, greater than two in 5 girls with durations say they’ve struggled to buy menstrual merchandise in some unspecified time in the future of their life.
Kumar on the time was a consultant within the Harvard Undergraduate Council, and commenced her work with menstrual fairness shortly thereafter, passing council laws to safe funding for a campus-wide program guaranteeing entry to menstrual merchandise. In 2018, the College Council and menstrual fairness group PERIOD had instated free product distribution throughout Harvard undergraduate dorms following a profitable pilot program. Nevertheless, Kumar’s mission hit a roadblock in 2022 when the Undergrad Council dissolved.
Undeterred, she saved engaged on the mission with a brand new title, “Making Harvard 100% Interval Safe.”
“A whole lot of the concepts originated in that house. There’ve been college students which were engaged on it earlier than I used to be there. And in years previous to the pandemic, there was a quiet wave of menstrual fairness on campus,” she mentioned.
Intent on making the targets a actuality, she discovered a accomplice in Harvard’s Workplace of Bodily Assets and Planning.
“The position I served was consolidating all scholar voices into one scholar consultant and dealing very intimately with FAS and the Workplace of Bodily Planning, the custodial employees, and the constructing managers. Simply having a one-student strategy, that basically took the actions of different college students and introduced it collectively into one actionable change on campus,” she mentioned.
“She actually took it to the following stage with scholar involvement,” mentioned Matthew Stec, FAS senior director of Services Operations. “And she or he helped us handle the entire course of. It went from only one lavatory per constructing to each feminine and gender-neutral lavatory on campus.”
The largest problem, in accordance with each Kumar and Stec, was the sheer variety of loos on campus. Eight hundred, to be exact, in accordance with cataloging by Kumar and the workforce from the Workplace of Bodily Assets and Planning. Of these, about 24 % had free and accessible menstrual merchandise. One of many first steps towards assessing the state of campus loos was to speak to all of the constructing managers on campus and make a database of each single constructing — which loos had been in that constructing and, of them, which had free and accessible merchandise, which had damaged machines, and which had machines that also required coinage.
“We discovered that the athletic buildings really had no menstrual product dispensers and college students needed to go ask a custodial employees member or a constructing supervisor for entry to merchandise, which they then pulled from, like, a field someplace in a closet handy out to the athletes,” Kumar mentioned. “I used to be like, that’s loopy.”