From Thursday, you can find the cabinets in the ladies’ toilets in the Erasmus Pavilion, the University Library, the Food Court and the Van der Goot Building. The two council members behind the initiative, Dian van Toor and Ana Uribe Sandoval, installed the cabinets with the help of their colleagues after picking them up at IKEA. For the moment, this project is still emphatically in its trial stage. The products will be offered in the relative privacy of the ladies’ toilets, so students can grab them without drawing attention to themselves.

Supermarket closed

In fact, it’s surprising that an item that is so essential to women has been so difficult to source on campus. “In the past, you could go to the Spar supermarket if you ran out,” remembers Uribe Sandoval, “but that has been closed for some time.” She believes that this lack of options went unnoticed until now because men don’t really pay attention to this issue, and women were afraid to ask. “Menstruation has been a taboo subject for centuries. People treated it as unseemly: something you don’t talk about in public. We’re trying to break with this,” says Uribe Sandoval. “Why is it perfectly normal to have free hand soap and toilet paper in the loos, but no menstrual products? Sanitary towels are incredibly important when it comes to making our campus a safer environment – including for people who are having their period.”

The cabinets will be offering both tampons and sanitary towels. Hopefully, people won’t be using this resource on an ongoing basis. Uribe explains that it is solely intended for emergencies. “We’re asking everyone to be decent and responsible about this. We haven’t fastened the cabinets to the wall or anything, and we have limited stock. So please leave them where they are, and only take stuff if you really need them.”

Period poverty, also in Rotterdam

The issue of period poverty is currently being addressed in various corners of the university. This includes a study performed within Rotterdam School of Management and a poll among students by the Health Team as part of the Erasmus Verbindt initiative, which works to link research to concrete projects in the city.

Students Ludovica Arvigo (Psychology) and Tamara Gerhardt (Communication and Media) asked respondents to which extent they required better access to menstrual products, and whether these items were affordable enough. You’d think this would mainly be a problem in developing countries, but research shows that it’s also a big issue for students in Rotterdam. Almost half the respondents (n=226) indicated that they found menstrual products in the Netherlands prohibitively expensive. Moreover, one out of six indicated that they personally knew someone who couldn’t afford these items. Around 70 percent (of the 205 respondents who have a menstrual cycle) also indicated that they would like to take advantage of this offer of free period products on campus. That’s because two thirds of them occasionally find themselves in a situation where they don’t have access to these products. A large share of this group also indicated that they occasionally skipped a lecture because they were having their period. Among other things, this can make it difficult for them to concentrate.

Off campus

In order to offer the free service on campus more permanently, the University Council has asked the Executive Board to finance the project structurally. Erasmus Verbindt is also considering various activities to secure structural budget for this free campus facility, including a fundraiser – although these plans are still at an early stage. “And we’re in touch with the alumni fund – they’re enthusiastic about the initiative too.” But Erasmus Verbindt doesn’t want to stop here. Gerhardt: “We’re also considering including menstrual cups, since students have indicated they use those too. And we’re checking out whether we can team up with manufacturers that offer organic menstrual hygiene products. And off campus too, of course! Other countries are doing a lot more in this area than we are: in Scotland for example, free period products are available for everyone!”

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