Menstruation is the new discrimination, civil rights activists argue

Civil rights activists argue female students are being discriminated against – by their period.

The Department of Education is expected to weigh in on whether period products should be mandated in schools as an application of Title IX.

“The Department is committed to ensuring Title IX addresses the full scope of sex discrimination that occurs in schools,” said Catherine Lhamon, head of the department’s civil rights branch, despite a department spokesperson’s previous statement that providing period products was “dependent on state or local law – it’s not a federal responsibility.”

Title IX’s original purpose was to guarantee women the same educational opportunities as men. Now, advocates against “period poverty” are arguing women need to be treated differently on account of their sex. Period poverty is a worldwide phenomenon in which girls are more likely to miss school because they lack access to hygiene products.

“Menstruation isn’t clearly written in Title IX,” said Claire Coder, CEO of Aunt Flow, a period product company. “Yet if you don’t have access and you’re menstruating, there are challenges to going to school.”

Although some states require free menstrual products for grades 6-12, such laws are nowhere near universal.

Advocates against period poverty want to help low-income students stay in school all month long. But doing so requires special treatment – accommodation for a uniquely female biological reality – rather than equal treatment under the law. 

The current educational system does provide women the same opportunities as men. Whether they are mentally or physically able to utilize those opportunities does not seem to be addressed by Title IX.  

The alternative is requiring every state to be like Oregon and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per district putting menstrual products in all restrooms, perhaps including men’s. 

The Department of Education has not announced if or when it will provide a formal stance regarding the issue.