What do these three machines have in common?
- They are all located in women’s restrooms on the campus of Michigan State University
- All three of them claim to have tampons and pads inside, that women can access for a quarter a piece
- Each of them claims to be emptied of any money daily
- Not one of them contains any tampons or pads (at least, none of the ones that I’ve ever tried)
These machines have always annoyed me. They have never been there for me when I needed them. I remember a specific instance a couple of years ago at Spartan Stadium. I started my period early and I thought I could rely on the trusty metal box that is always in the ladies’ room. Wrong. After inserting money and frustratingly smacking the machine, I realized I was out of luck. I figured the next logical move would be to checking with the first-aid station. The stadium has a few kiosks and a larger station downstairs. Guess where I had to finally go to get a tampon? None of the smaller kiosks had anything to offer me. While I should have been prepared with something of my own, I found it ridiculous that I have to go to three different stops to finally get something for my period. I was missing a lot of precious game time!
So why couldn’t there just have been tampons or pads in that tiny metal box in the first place? Why bother with the sticker claiming that the machine is emptied everyday when clearly no attention is being paid to them at all? Pads and tampons aren’t luxury items, despite what the European Union has to say about it. I’m not saying that sanitary products should be free in public restrooms (although I wouldn’t protest that), but couldn’t someone at least prioritize refilling these machines so women in a bind can put a quarter (or more) in and successfully retrieve a crappy cardboard tampon or a diaper pad with wings?
I’ve done quite a bit of thinking about this. Recently though, I’ve realized just how lucky I am. I live in a country where I have easy access to tampons, pads, painkillers, and even birth control to make my period easier (there is also an app I just discovered that solves this empty tampon vending machine problem). While paying for pads and tampons is inconvenient, I can afford it. I don’t live in a country where I miss school because of my period. The subject is a bit taboo, but not enough that it isn’t talked about publicly. I was able to talk to adults and ask them questions. Along with my mom, it was my teachers in elementary school were the ones who taught me about my period. I was encouraged to ask them for help if I needed it at school. I am incredibly fortunate.
Having this in mind, I came across an organization called Days For Girls International. This is an organization that helps young girls gain access to feminine hygiene products and health education in over 85 countries across the world. Days For Girls is a nonprofit that works for preteen girls specifically, because they see the need for them to have a good and long education, which is something that can be hindered if they have to stay home each month when they get their periods. They have found that every girl who has a seven-year or longer education marries four years later on average. This is important because it makes the girls stronger, more independent, and more likely to be able support themselves in these poor countries.
From the Days For Girls’ website:”Days for Girls International has reached over 85+ Nations on 6 continents, including: Afghanistan, Albania, Australia*, Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chad, China, Congo, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Fiji, Germany*, Ghana, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Ireland*, Italy*, Jordan, Kenya, Laos, Lesotho, Lithuania, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar (Burma), Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand*, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Papaua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Romania, Rwanda, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, South Sudan, Spain*, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden*, Tanzania, Thailand, Tibet- Autonomous Region of China, Togo, Uganda, UK*, USA, Vanuatu, Vietnam, Zambia, Zimbabwe and growing. * Our official count includes only countries where kits are distributed. All known participating countries are listed here. Astrisks indicate where volunteers make kits but no distribution has taken place.”
Days For Girls isn’t the only organization that offers help for girls across the world in their plight. There are hundreds of companies that band together on May 28th each year for Menstrual Hygiene Day, a global movement working toward breaking the silence on menstruation taboos. Pads4Girls provides females of all ages with washable and reusable pads so they do not have to miss school or work, a concept very similar to what Days For Girls is working towards. And in our own country, Distributing Dignity helps homeless women get access to bras and sanitary products, and popular feminine hygiene brands like DivaCup and Always have similar programs.
The next time I find myself in a public restroom in need of a tampon, I’ll probably be frustrated. However, I will be thankful. I will most likely be in a bathroom on campus, meaning that regardless of being on my period I can still go to school. Plus, I will know that I can go home and take care of myself, despite what feels like a ridiculous price to pay for some cotton. I have options though, and I am grateful for those options. Too many women, both halfway across the world and in my own town, do not have these options. But thanks to organizations like Days For Girls, they might get them. This is important because when it comes to menstruation, girls need options. Period.