By Anna Debeye and Ronja Boer
Shortly after the start of this academic year, the AUC Student Council sent out a survey called “Free Menstrual Products Interest Survey” to gauge whether students wish for the Academic Building to offer free menstrual products in its bathrooms. The response was an overwhelming consensus: of the 257 people surveyed , 97.7% answered ‘yes’ when asked if they would be interested in having access to free menstrual products in the academic building (AB).
The initiative follows closely behind a pilot currently being done by UvA, where menstrual products have been available for 15 euro cents per 16-pack since the start of the academic year. In addressing gender equity and period poverty, the UvA, and now AUC, are taking steps to support their staff and students who menstruate. According to 2021-22 Student Council co-chair Maxence-Viktor Liesenborgs, many institutions around the world are starting to provide free menstrual products for their students.
Liesenborgs recalls bringing the idea up to dean Prof. Dr. Martin van Hees during the June intensive of the previous academic year. “We definitely were not the first to think of the idea,” she states, citing the immense amount of responsibilities of the Student Council as reason for some initiatives to fade to the back of their agenda. In order to ensure that the menstrual products endeavour would not be neglected, Liesenborgs looped in the 2022-23 Student Council members during their transition period adding that “free menstrual products should be a no-brainer at an institution that always tries to be more innovative and inclusive”.
Miriam Crane, Students Affairs officer of the current Student Council, took over the project from Liesenborgs. Aided by AUCSC co-chair Gilda Sadeghi, Crane prepared a pitch for the AUC Management Team (MT) in which they used results from the survey and cost research to propose a plan. Although the survey results did not indicate a large number of people struggling with period poverty, nearly every respondent indicated interest in the project. This was supported by over 70 anonymous opinions expressing that free menstrual products in the Academic Building would be helpful. “What we found was that students go home if they run into an issue,” Crane explains the survey answers, “and that is not very fair if a menstruating student has to go home but a non-menstruating student can stay all day in the AB.”
The MT responded to AUCSC’s pitch with enthusiasm after approximately two weeks. However, they left most of the logistic responsibilities up to Crane and Sadeghi. This, paired with the fact that the MT was in transition at the time, slowed the process of selecting and ordering the menstrual products. Ingrid van Loon, Head of Facilities within the MT, got involved in the project when Crane and Sadeghi approached her. Van Loon entered her current position only in November of last year and therefore does not know why the initiative for free menstrual products had not been realised yet. Although she, like Liesenborgs, speculates that the heavy workload and having “never thought of that before” were potential setbacks. Greenlighting the Student Council’s proposal seemed like a no-brainer to van Loon: “If toilet paper and hand towels are offered [for free], it kind of makes sense to also provide sanitary pads and tampons for free,” she says.
A dispenser – a metal box, similar to a paper towel dispenser – for period products will be added to one of the AUC bathrooms on the first floor in the second week of February. With a budget of 200 euros for the rest of the academic year, the Student Council is in charge of keeping it filled with both pads and tampons. Crane and Sadeghi stress that the Student Council’s logistical involvement is temporary since this is only a pilot trial. Eventually the dispensers should become the university’s responsibility, rather than that of its students. Sadeghi explains: “this was not exactly what we asked for, but the next Student Council can make it more of an operation of AUC. I do not think management wants it to stay like this.”
After comparing the prices of different companies, the Student Council chose to supply the dispenser from Periodically, a German company that wants “to make menstrual products freely available to everyone”. According to research done by the Student Council, two dispensers are enough to provide AUC’s students with the necessary products, but during the pilot trial they have decided to start with only one. While the costs of this dispenser and the additional products are AUC’s at the moment, Crane and Sadeghi hope that the UvA will eventually take over the expenses if the pilot trial is successful. Van Loon agrees, adding that she hopes this will become an UvA-wide initiative before the end of the pilot, with the technical aspects becoming their responsibility.
Despite the prolonged process, AUCSC confirmed that the dispenser has been delivered as of 28 January. Sadeghi explains that its instalment in the Academic Building will be accompanied by an official inauguration in the first week of the new semester. The Student Council will reach out to the students with all final information once the dispenser is in place.