One University of Central Arkansas student saw a need for free feminine hygiene products on campus and is working with other organizations to try and make that a reality.
Jennifer Cale, a sophomore at UCA, said it was in high school where the idea came to her. She said she was visiting another university for a band competition and came across free products in the bathroom.
“It just made a really good impression on me,” she said, even leading her to apply at the school. “It just impressed me that they care about their students in that way.”
Cale currently serves as the representative for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics in UCA’s Student Government Association.
She said she introduced her peers to the idea during SGA’s fall retreat at the beginning of the year.
“I was like, ‘you know what, I want to make this a goal this year, I think we can do it,’” Cale said.
Everyone else, she said, seems to be on board as well.
Cale said the plan is in the early stages and her next step is to start talking logistics: how funding is going to work, how will products be distributed, where they will distributed and more.
“Right now, we’re just trying to figure out how to move forward and what’s the best way to do that,” she said.
When the Log Cabin Democrat spoke with Cale on Friday, the 19-year-old was asked why this cause is significant to her.
“I think it’s important because I know a lot of women who simply can’t afford feminine hygiene products,” she said.
Oftentimes, Cale said, women are shamed into not talking about it, though, other items, like condoms, are freely given by UCA’s Student Health Center on campus, which offers other female services like pap smears and birth control.
“I just believe that if the [center] can provide condoms then they can supply feminine hygiene products, which are a necessity for women,” she said. “I think that we should have those, that should be an option for us if we have so many other services.”
An aspect more frustrating, Cale said, is the fact that while the health center offers the condoms for free, the funding has to come from somewhere — students — which is something she’s mentioned to others in passing.
“In a way, we are paying for the condoms but we can’t have feminine hygiene products,” she said.
Cale said by raising this issue and making everyone aware of this issue will make her plan more achievable.
At first, she said, she was nervous about talking about her idea, especially because she had been conditioned not to, but overall, everyone has been supportive.
“I’ve been waiting for the backlash, but I haven’t really had any,” Cale said. “I think it’s sad that I’m expecting backlash from this when I’m just trying to help the women on campus.”
She said she blames the stigma — people being raised to think the monthly visit is something gross, when it’s just part of the female body.
“I don’t think there’s any shame talking about it openly,” Cale said.
While this may be her perspective, she said, she’s also had instances where people, even friends, have quieted her.
Cale recalled a moment she was in a mixed-gender friend group and the girls started talking about periods and then males instantly shut them down and said things like, “gross,” and “I don’t want to hear about that.”
She said the females started speaking out about the moments of discomfort they experience while they’re on their times of the month, noting it’s something they go through, which made the men change their tunes.
“It’s not something to really be quiet about,” Cale said. “It’s our bodies. Some women, I’m sure, feel embarrassed when called out like that by their friends. That’s definitely happened to me but it’s not as common anymore.”
The underlying issue there even, she said, is that the group of men were made to feel that they should object in that form, something that Cale said goes back to childhood and society’s need to constantly separate the male from the female, even during something as important as sex education in school.
She said that approach instills a divide in the two.
Through this initiative — and the possible research project she wants to do for honors college — she hopes a level of awareness about feminine hygiene is raised.
“I hope, first and foremost, that the women of campus feel a level of welcoming that they haven’t felt anywhere else before,” she said.
Cale said she hopes that they — the Feminist Union on campus has also joined the ranks — start having meetings soon and make plans for the future to solidify getting the products on campus next semester.
Briana Vongvilay, with the union, said they are in full support of what Cale and the SGA is trying to do and are ready to collaborate with them in anyway they can.
“I would say this initiative is important to use because we believe in free access to these necessities,” she said. “Why are these products taxed as luxuries when they are purely necessities? It's unfortunate that a lot of individuals don't have access to the things that they need, and for [the union], it is truly unacceptable.”
Vongvilay said their mission is to continue the conversation to raise awareness toward issues like these.
“I would say on the UCA Campus, students are generally progressive [and] I would assume would be in support of this initiative,” she said. “We want to create and lead to change — good change — and if we can do that by starting small, who knows what this initiative will lead to[.] The goal is something greater than us, hopefully.”