Columbus City Council member Elizabeth Brown will speak at an Undergraduate Student Government event on Ohio State’s campus Thursday in support of free access to tampons and pads in Columbus and on campus.
“Access, Period.” is an informative event focusing on women’s healthcare brought forth by the USG government relations committee. The talk will be in two parts — lecture and then a Q&A — that will each focus on the problem of access to menstrual products.
Brown said the issue had not crossed her mind until Nancy Kramer, a friend who started a tampon-focused nonprofit called Free the Tampon, explained to her that tampons, pads and other female hygiene products are generally not readily available in public places. On the other hand, toilet paper is always free and accessible.
“It was like a lightbulb going off in my head,” Brown said.
As a response to her revelation, Brown — who is the event’s only speaker — introduced a pilot program in February 2017 that made tampons and pads free and accessible in all Columbus recreation centers and homeless shelters.
When we as a city are looking at where we cut costs in our budget, do we ever take a red pen to our toilet paper budget? – City Council member Elizabeth Brown
Brown said the program will be the focus of her talk.
The event was organized by Abi McGowan, a second-year in political science and international relations, and Julia Dennen, a second-year in public management, leadership and policy.
McGowan said its purpose was not only to propose ways Ohio State can create similar programs as Brown’s, but to inform students about the stigma surrounding tampons and pads.
Brown said the public doesn’t talk enough about menstrual products because of the uncomfortable nature that comes with the subject.
It isn’t a one-gender issue, McGowan said, adding men can be included in the dialogue to make it less stigmatized.
“Although we want [the event] to speak to women’s issues, we don’t want it to feel like it’s exclusively for women,” McGowan said. “Hopefully for the people who don’t know much about it, they can learn more about an issue that is very pertinent to women.”
Feminine products like tampons and pads play a major role in women’s lives, McGowan said.
“It affects half of the population and it also negatively affects the homeless, so we feel like there are a lot of different ways [to combat it] and it’s an issue that is sort of still seen as taboo.
“We wanted to make sure that a good conversation was being put out there.”
Sophie Chang, USG vice president and a fourth-year in environment, economy, development and sustainability, said a plan to provide free menstrual products on campus is already in talks.
Chang said Ohio State’s version of the program would place free tampons and pads in the Ohio Union and the RPAC.
“I’ve gotten the chance to speak with council member Brown about both the event and our initiative on campus and gather her insights about it,” Chang said. “We are excited for our pilot that will hopefully roll out next spring.”
However, providing free tampons and pads is not an easy feat in Columbus or at Ohio State.
The first hurdle that’s in the way of Ohio State’s program is the financial cost to the university.
Dennen said some people might think it isn’t a burden for individuals to pay for menstrual products, but she added the program is made specifically for people that can’t afford these items, especially those in poverty.
Though Brown said the opposition believes it will financially strain governments or institutions, she said the real problem is the negative cultural undertone periods have, even though it is a natural process.
“People say [the issue is] financial, when it’s cultural,” Brown said. “When we as a city are looking at where we cut costs in our budget, do we ever take a red pen to our toilet paper budget?
“I believe that the claims that there is a financial hindrance is based under this cultural hindrance.”
Brown also said one year’s worth of products in Columbus recreation centers only cost a “few thousand [dollars]” in comparison to a $389 million city budget.
Chang’s similar program, in conjunction with the Office of Student Life and the USG health & safety committee, is set to start in Spring Semester, but Brown said she hopes that her talk will push other students to help with the initiative and advocate for the cause.
“I think [students] should contact their leaders in USG who’s spearheading this and let them know you’re willing to help because it does take advocacy to innovate and to move forward,” Brown said. “I think that the administration could be really open to hearing voices on this issue.”
Access, Period. will be held in the Round Reading Room on the third floor of the Ohio Union Thursday at 5 p.m.