Challenging Another Stigma: What Happens When You Get Your Period in Public?

Photo Credit:  August Nyson -  special thanks to     Schmohz Brewing Company   .

Photo Credit: August Nyson - special thanks to  Schmohz Brewing Company.

Imagine. You’re in public, perhaps running errands, and then you feel it. You just got your period. Unfortunately, you don’t have the supplies you need to manage this natural function. Maybe you were expecting it but simply forgot to pack products in your purse; maybe it’s irregular and caught you by surprise; or maybe you simply haven’t had the funds to purchase feminine hygiene products this month (a devastating reality for many women). You walk carefully and steadily to the nearest bathroom, silently praying that you’ll find the resources you need there.

Upon entering the bathroom, you are disheartened to find that there are no products available. There’s an old, dirty dispensing machine on the wall, but it’s empty. You resort to wadding up toilet paper to create a makeshift sanitary pad, which you will wear until you’re able to either purchase the products you need or go home.

This is an unfortunate reality for many women, and it puts their confidence, dignity, and even health at risk. In fact, 86% of women have gotten their period in public without supplies. As such, it’s important for businesses to meet the needs of their patrons by ensuring that feminine hygiene products are available in their restrooms. Product accessibility is a crucial aspect of women’s health and an increasingly hot topic of discussion. As such, I was inspired this month to pay closer attention to this issue right here in Grand Rapids, asking myself, “Are local businesses meeting the needs of their female patrons?”

Throughout the month, I made a conscious effort to examine the restroom of each business I visited throughout my normal activities, including stores, restaurants, gas stations, etc. I examined whether or not feminine hygiene products were available, if dispensers were stocked, and if wastebaskets were easily accessible.

I found that, while most businesses provided wastebaskets in the stalls for product disposal, very few provided feminine hygiene products in their restrooms. The minority that does provide them generally supplies them through a 25-cent dispensing machine, and, as many of us already know, you can’t always count on these dispensers being stocked. Watch our “Let’s Talk!” video about one such experience.

However, one local business serves as a shining example to others. Schmohz Brewing Company is the kind of place where you feel at home the moment you walk through the door. The warm, inviting atmosphere extends into the ladies’ restroom, where on the counter sits a basket filled with a variety of feminine hygiene products freely accessible to customers. This extra effort and thoughtfulness exemplifies Schmohz as a business that values all of its patrons. Gabi Palmer, the head brewer, shared that customers frequently express their thanks and appreciation, and I have no doubt that this extra effort—not to mention the delicious, unique beer—contribute to the company’s loyal and growing customer base. When women feel safe, valued, and welcome at an establishment, they return (often with friends)!

Fortunately, recent laws are guiding a shift toward greater product accessibility. New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Jersey have eliminated the tax on feminine hygiene products, lowering the financial burden women face for managing their period.  Most recently, Illinois has implemented a law requiring all public schools to supply free feminine hygiene products in their restrooms.

These laws show great progress, but we have a long way to go. Our hope is that more public places—including businesses, schools, and offices—will embrace accountability for recognizing and meeting women’s needs. Imagine the confidence it would bring women to know that if they get their period in public, they can count on products being available in the restroom. Workplaces would see increased productivity. Schools would see fewer absences and better grades. Businesses would see happier customers.

How can you help push for these positive changes? Next time you’re in a public restroom, if you notice a lack of feminine hygiene supplies, consider bringing it to management’s attention---not to admonish, but to expand the conversation. Perhaps that business owner simply hasn’t considered the positive results it could produce. In turn, if you visit a business that supplies these products, we encourage you to express your appreciation.

Progress can be slow moving when the conversations are kept quiet, and the efforts we make now could have a substantial impact on future generations. We’re here to extend a platform where members of our community feel safe and are equipped with the right tools to talk about these “uncomfortable” things until they’re not uncomfortable anymore!

By: Aanee Nichols