PERIOD at UC Berkeley holds protest to normalize menstrual health

Cheyenne Tex/Staff

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Protesters rallied at Sproul Plaza on Friday to normalize menstrual health, abolish the tampon tax and create access to free period products in public institutions.

The rally was hosted by PERIOD at UC Berkeley, a club focused on alleviating period poverty and stigma through education, service and advocacy. Allison Lu, campus sophomore, president and founder of UC Berkeley’s PERIOD chapter, said the club supports not only women — but anyone who menstruates, including individuals who identify as transgender, nonbinary and others.

“We exist to give a big middle finger to the stigma and … essentially to anyone who opposes women’s rights, transgender health and the rights of marginalized communities,” Lu said.

The first-ever National Period Day, Oct. 19, fell on the same day as the homecoming football game. According to Lu, organizers were excited for this opportunity to hold the protest during homecoming, because many people — specifically administrators — would be on campus. She added that this movement is about “making as much of a scene as possible.”

Protests are the most effective way to gain attention according to Kolieka Seigle, California director of the National Organization for Women. She added that protests, whether silent, on one knee or “burning things down in the street,” gather attention and prevent the status quo from continuing to move forward.

“Nobody is listening to us,” Lu said. “So we are going to literally scream and shout until someone hears us because menstrual equity is a real issue. Period poverty is a real issue and legislators need to recognize that.”

UC Davis senior Seham Kawthar said there is so much stigma around periods — and if you have a pad or tampon, you have to wrap it up properly “so no man can see it,” she added.

At the protest, author and activist Silvia Young said it is important to have a platform for those affected to tell their stories so they can create change. Young added that women need to share their personal stories until they “drown out the voices of the oppressors.”

“Every kind of social change begins with the destigmatization, making the topic not taboo anymore,” Lu said. “We can’t make any fundamental social change until that has happened.”

While the main goal of the protest was to destigmatize menstrual health, protesters were also fighting to end the tampon tax and provide free period products in all public institutions — including schools, shelters and prisons, according to the event page. Lu said taxing tampons and pads as luxury items is “ridiculous,” especially because medications for men, such as Viagra, are considered “medical necessities.”

She added that students often have to choose between buying food and buying pads.

“Old men getting an erection is seen as more of a necessity than over half of our population being confident and capable 100% of the time,” said Nadya Okamoto, Harvard University junior and executive director of PERIOD, at the protest.

Because of societal stigma, as well as the high cost of period products and taxes, one in four women will not be able to cover the cost of their monthly menstrual needs and find it difficult to have affordable access, according to Seigle.

Campus sophomore and member of PERIOD at UC Berkeley Rachael Deng said, on average, girls miss 10-20% of school because of period discomfort. She added that having to stay out of school because of a natural biological condition means women are not contributing everything they can to society, and as a result, society is not operating at its full potential.

“Having a menstrual cycle means a life of double standards for the rest of your life,” Young said. “Until we change policy, we experience institutionalized and systemic misogyny.”

Contact Maria Young at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maria_myoung.