“Do you have any pads?” a girl asked one of our mentors through sobs. “I don’t have money for the machine.”
She was from a team from outside the U.S. — a country that does not require payment for menstrual products in public restrooms — and was panicking because she had no coins. As luck would have it, she had run into a mentor of an all-girls team that keeps tampons and pads in their pit. Although the lack of menstrual products may have been addressed in the moment, it opened our eyes to menstrual equity.
Consider a typical restroom. It wouldn't be acceptable to have toilet paper available only 20% of the time or expect people to pay for it. Why then do 80% of restrooms lack menstrual products or have empty or broken coin-operated dispensers?
Menstrual Equity refers to the affordability, accessibility and safety of menstrual products and is about making sure that people have the means, support, and choices to take care of their menstrual health.
m.e. FIRST, our initiative to ensure menstrual equity in FIRST, is a continuation of our 2021 Innovation Challenge project. While the idea was sparked by our members’ experiences at FIRST competitions and sporting events, our research showed clearly that this is a much larger issue. To have a fully equitable and participatory society, menstrual products must be safe and affordable to all who need them. This is the driving philosophy behind m.e. FIRST.
We began distributing pads and tampons at local FRC events. We found overwhelming support for our mission and set our sights on competitions beyond our region, developing an ambassador program for teams that were equally passionate about equity. We created a toolkit that provides an overview of menstrual equity, calculators for how many products to bring, templates for social media, event flyers, and signage for the products placed in restrooms. Ambassador teams can also order laptop stickers and buttons at no cost.
m.e. FIRST launched last season and 75 ambassador teams supported nearly 100 competitions around the world, providing thousands of free period products. We continued these efforts at the FIRST Championship and were able to cover the entire event of nearly 800 teams.
This year, we are excited to be partnering with Aunt Flow, a company committed to universal access to menstrual products, to design a pad and tampon bundle that teams can easily order to cover their FRC competitions at a significant discount. Learn more about m.e. FIRST and sign up to be an ambassador team at frc.spacecookies.org/menstrual-equity.
This blog was submitted by Space Cookies, FRC team 1868. If you are interested in blogging for FIRST Ladies, click here to sign up on the schedule!
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