Seongnam, SOUTH KOREA – With only 10 minutes left on your final exam, you rapidly walk towards the bathroom, hoping that it is not happening. Oh, please not now! you cry as you find out that you’re on your period.
With no pads anywhere, you realize that you are screwed. There’s no one to ask for one and the only other place to get one is in the nurse’s office, which is six floors down.
You go down the floors to only find that the nurse couldn’t give you one, so you call your mom and go home before it becomes even messier.
And guess what? You’ve missed your finals just because you couldn’t get a pad.
This is a true story from a student at Korea International School about a year ago.
The struggle girls face in obtaining this basic necessity has deprived countless students from their learning.
But nothing has ever been done to alleviate such stress because girls’ voices have been silenced by our culture, our constructs, our beliefs.
Stirred by the numerous veiled accounts and realizing how this issue is stripping our fundamental right, I initiated the Pad Initiative at Korea International School with my club Social Justice League early this year to fight for school-funded pads across the campus.
But before we even talk about this, we need to get comfortable with the discomfort, the bleak truth that we all avert.
Pads. Tampons. Period. Women’s menstruation and hygiene isn’t regularly spoken of because it grips the most personal, vulnerable part of our body.
As senior student Jenny Lee said, “I know I shouldn’t, but I sometimes feel embarrassed about bringing pads with me to the bathroom. It just makes things awkward.”
It’s uncomfortable for both men and women. Girls are cultured to feel shame when talking about pads in front of guys and the latter think that talking about pads is inappropriate or worse, comical.
But the only inappropriate thing here is to stay silent on this pressing issue because women’s health is just as important as any other #metoo story.
Sure, pads and tampons have been historically stigmatized. But are they not a basic necessity, a woman’s basic right?
What difference is a pad from toilet paper when it is a biological need?
Hearing similar accounts empowered me to try to make an impact. I even learned about how a teacher’s sofa had large blood stains. Just imagine the stress and pain that student had to go through.
After several months of planning and discussions with school administrators, my club successfully implemented this project. Today, we have pads in pad holders on 11 floors across three buildings that are renewed weekly.
Ever since its inception, about 330 pads were used in 12 weeks, helping around 55 girls weekly.
The Pad Initiative enabled students to be stress-free – especially in times of emergencies – by having accessible supplies in bathrooms.
“It helps a lot,” said sophomore Cadence Jacobsen, “because I know that a lot of girls, including me, can get irregular cycles and sometimes we don’t expect our periods to start, and when we are in an emergency situation without a pad, it really helps.”
Kelly Chang, Social Justice League advisor and the mentor who has been instrumental in getting this project off the ground, supports this claim.
“Providing feminine products in the girls’ bathrooms has been a lifesaver for many students at KIS,” Chang said, who added that the response has been gratifying to the club members who work hard every week refilling the dispensers, which are always empty.
“We are sincerely grateful for the school’s funding as long as we provide the labor and passion,” Chang said. “We are looking into diversifying our feminine products by including tampons along with pads. Overall, this initiative has been impactful and we are so pleased with the outcome!”
On a more profound level, this project is starting the conversation on these sensitive yet human parts of our lives. So many girls are too timid to talk about anything related to pads. Many approached for comment were not even willing to be quoted about it.
But by providing girls with school-funded pads, by sharing our work with the greater population, by stepping forwards with our belief in justice, we are opening a discussion on these issues.
Senior Jae Wan Chung showed the impact.
“I wish it had started sooner because it definitely would have been very helpful to so many girls including myself, but nonetheless, I’m glad it started and opens up the conversation of removing the negative/icky stigma around periods,” Chung said.
Despite great strides in the #metoo movement, women’s hygiene needs are still covered underneath. We have created a culture open to saying “me too” while denying words like “pads” or “tampons.”
The truth is, the deeper we delve into women’s most sacred and vulnerable spot, the quieter the world gets. But when we recognize this silenced place, when we listen to the voices of those struggling, we grapple with our own understanding and acceptance of love, faith, and justice.
The school’s Social Justice League is hosting a pad fundraising this month to open the conversation even more. All donations will be going to a local women’s shelter.
We still have a long way to go to make the discussion a little less awkward. But I know that stirring up the conversation through our initiative is paving the way for change.
Sarah Se- Jung Oh is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.