Pilot Project: Tampon and Sanitary Pad Dispensers at Universität Hamburg
Universität Hamburg aims to set an example in the debate about providing tampons and sanitary pads free of charge in public facilities by providing our members with free period products in a pilot project. By making tampons and pads free, the University continues to advocate for equal opportunity in every aspect of university life. The project is due to start at the beginning of the 2022/23 Winter Semester.
Why a pilot project?
The pilot project is to help make the issue of menstruation visible and contribute to its social normalization. We hope this will spark a discussion at Universität Hamburg about menstruation and how it affects many members of the university community in their study and work environment. At the end of a year, resonance, consumption, criticism, and suggestions for improvement will be evaluated to ascertain whether it should be continued, and if so, on what basis.
Why are free tampon and pad dispensers in university restrooms important?
Period supplies should be available in the restrooms of University buildings like toilet paper, soap, or paper towels, as a way of ensuring that menstruating people are not disadvantaged at Universität Hamburg. About half of the world’s population menstruates about once a month for roughly 40 years— including many Universität Hamburg students and employees. We also want to help lift menstrual taboos.
What is period poverty and what does it have to do with equal opportunity?
Period poverty is when a menstruating person lacks funds to purchase appropriate period products (https://de.statista.com/themen/8624/menstruation/). This particularly affects low-income students. These students may be unable to leave the house to go to university when menstruating. Menstruating persons who are facing poverty carry a special burden which, at worst, leads to social exclusion.
Not all menstruating individuals have a regular cycle. If menstruation occurs suddenly and unexpectedly, it may result in embarrassing situations, e.g., due to blood-stained clothes or the need to ask for a tampon may arise. Menstruating persons usually are forced to go home or to a nearby store to obtain the necessary product.
Free menstrual products enable participation in a work and study environment that allows students and employees to focus on their studies or work without having to worry about period products.
Does this solve all menstrual problems?
The project is aimed at removing menstrual taboos without trivializing them. By providing period products the University is taking a key step to tackle period poverty. This does not, however, eliminate menstrual inequity. Severe menstrual pain and other psychological and physical menstrual symptoms may disrupt daily routines of University members.
For whom is the offer intended?
Our goal is to benefit all menstruating people at the University. In particular, students who are most affected by period poverty which limits their access to the University curriculum or restricts their ability to participate in it.
We ask all users to take out only as many items as they need and to dispose of them in the appropriate garbage cans after use.
We are intent on increasing the number of dispensers in University buildings in the long term to accommodate as many people as possible.
Who covers the costs?
The University Administration will cover the cost of the one-year pilot phase.
Do other universities offer this too?
Several German universities are already providing period products in their restrooms, including:
- Friedrich Schiller University Jena,
- the University of Bonn,
- the University of Potsdam,
- the University of Stuttgart, and
- Philipps-Universität Marburg,
- the Hochschule Bonn-Rhein-Sieg, which also conducted and published a study on the perception and success of the measure.
Internationally, the provision of pads and tampons in universities has been quite common for some time:
Why not razors, hair gel, combs, nail files, etc. too?
Unlike the need for shaving and personal hygiene, which is largely socially and fashion-driven, the need for period products can arise spontaneously and unexpectedly. Coping strategies impose an additional mentally stress and may be hazardous to health or involve stopping or interrupting work or study days.
Why should non-menstruators pay for the needs of menstruators?
In solidarity-based societies, it is generally accepted that burdens affecting only part of the population are shared by everyone; even if the burden, unlike menstruation, is subject to the decision-making power of the individual concerned. For instance, non-smokers also bear the cost of maintaining and cleaning smoking areas on campus, as cyclists also bear the cost of managing university parking.
But won’t people take advantage of the situation and steal products?
Experience at other institutions and dispenser manufacturers show that abuse is infrequent and only occurs to a small extent. Taking more products than required mostly occurred when the offer was launched, but normalized once people grew accustomed to the continuous supply. As a general rule, the risk of possible misuse pales in comparison to the benefits of offering free products. For example, there was an increase in stolen disinfectants, soap, and toilet paper at the onset of the pandemic. In the same vein, cafeteria dishes and cutlery do not always find their way back to the cafeteria. Unlike in these cases, however, the quantities used are evaluated through the pilot project to identify irregularities and address them directly.
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