Chinese students have launched a program setting up free sanitary pad dispensers in toilets at universities across the country in a bid to end period shaming of young women.
“Sanitary pad support boxes” have been set up in almost 250 campuses following a campaign on social media by an advocacy group called Stand By Her. Those who take from the period support boxes are encouraged to help replenish its stock later.
Wang Ping, a third-year student at Minzu University in the southern province of Yunnan, said that with the help of about a dozen volunteers, the group had set up 10 boxes around the school.
“We are doing this in hopes of putting an end to period shaming and rejecting the stigma of menstruation,” she said. “We are not avoiding talking about but facing it head-on.”
The rare grassroots movement comes as the issue of periods has gained traction in China, where menstrual health is often seen as a source of embarrassment or taken lightly by health officials.
During the early months of the Covid-19 outbreak, female health workers complained that they had been told sanitary products were not considered critical items and would not be provided to them. A local NGO rallied to have donations of sanitary pads and period underwear sent to female frontline health workers.
In August this year, a screenshot of cheap unbranded pads on sale for 21.99 yuan (US$3) for a pack of 100 spread across social media, starting a debate over “period poverty” and the harsh living conditions of Chinese women and girls in rural areas. Some called for the government to provide support for those unable to afford such products.
Female students told the Guardian they often felt embarrassed when buying sanitary products. A third-year university student surnamed Liu at Guangxi University said that whenever she shopped for sanitary pads in campus stores, shop owners placed the products in a black plastic bag, separating it from the other products, before handing it back to her.
Tu Yajie, who helped set up boxes at Chengdu Medical College in the south-western province of Sichuan, said she felt this was one way to contribute to advocacy efforts in China, where a MeToo movement has spread across industries while also being subjected to censorship and legal hurdles.
“This is one thing that I can do to help, as a woman helping other women,” Tu said.
In a discussion forum, one internet user said of the campaign: “The university should be the place where women’s consciousness is awakened. This has really shown me the power of women.”