Quick Take:

UC Santa Cruz second-year Amanda Safi believes that if toilet paper is free in public restrooms, menstrual products should be too. She’s on a mission to ensure that youth, who can’t afford menstrual products, have access to free pads and tampons.

Free menstrual products were installed in bathrooms of two buildings on the UC Santa Cruz campus last week, thanks to second-year student Amanda Safi.

About a year ago, Amanda Safi and her project, which was initially focused on providing free pads and tampons to high school students in need in San Mateo County, received $20,000 from the Board of Supervisors to fund the project.

In October this year, she was part of a statewide coalition that successfully advocated for the passage of a bill that will require public schools that serve grades 6-12 — as well as community colleges and California State Universities — to provide free menstrual products in bathrooms starting this year. The law encourages the UC system to provide free products but it’s not required to do so.

And that’s the next goal for Safi’s Period Equity Project: to advocate for and help develop a system where free menstrual products are provided in bathrooms across its nine campuses.

Looking back, Safi said she feels good about these accomplishments and where she’s going.

“It’s given me a lot of hope that change is possible,” she said. “It’s also given me confidence in my own voice — that it matters and I should speak up.”

She founded the Period Equity Project initiative as she finished her senior year of high school. She had heard many stories of friends who started their periods at school and bled through their clothes as there were no menstrual products available for them. It was around that time that Safi also read “Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement” by Nadya Okamota which she said was inspiring.

She talked to administrators at Aragon High School in San Mateo and they supported her goal of seeking funding to provide free menstrual products in the bathrooms. The pandemic slowed things down, but in February 2021, when she was already a freshman at UCSC, the San Mateo Board of Supervisors approved the $20,000 funding. The project is ongoing there and expanded to provide products at Jefferson High School in Daly City as well.

A photo of the dispensers Amanda Safi is looking to install.
A photo of the dispensers Amanda Safi is looking to install. Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

It was shortly after that a statewide coalition pushing for the adoption of AB 367 reached out to Safi . She joined the team last spring and spoke during education hearings and helped draft the legislation.

Born in Modesto, Safi grew up in Turlock before her family moved to San Mateo during her junior year of high school. She said she didn’t always talk openly about menstruation.

“We’re all taught that periods are gross and disgusting,” she said. “So when I started learning about period poverty I wanted to do something about it.”

A total of 64% of students in the U.S. say that society teaches them to be ashamed of their periods, according to Free The Period, a student-led coalition working to end period poverty.

Annually, the American Civil Liberties Union says, a person can spend anywhere between $70 to $120 on tampons and pads, depending on a variety of factors like where someone lives or how heavy their period flow is.

These costs for those living in poverty can be too much. In some cases, people who can’t afford to buy sufficient tampons and pads will use products much longer than recommended or reuse them in order to save money.

This, in turn, can lead to a range of infections including Toxic Shock Syndrome, which can be fatal. Why, Safi and other period equity activists wonder, wouldn’t menstrual products be free in bathrooms if toilet paper is free in public bathrooms? Both are for natural and necessary processes and promote safe hygiene.

One of the people who recently heard those concerns was UCSC Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students Garrett Naiman. He met Safi through the UCSC Womxn’s Center. Safi described her goals and Naiman offered to help.

“Meeting Amanda and getting a chance to work with her is one of those moments–it’s why I wanted to be a dean of students,” he said. “Amanda is a really strong organizer. Detail-oriented and she she’s her vision through. It’s really clear, you know it five minutes after meeting her.”

Safi said Naiman’s office is providing about $6,000 in funding which goes toward the first installment of the menstrual products in two all-gender bathrooms in the BayTree Building and in one all-gender bathroom in the Redwood Building. After a few months, she said they’ll have a better idea of how they can expand to more buildings and the resources they’ll need.

Safi’s parents feel the same, but it wasn’t always that simple. She and her parents recall how initially it was difficult for them to accept she was advocating for something that is almost never discussed in their native Syria.

For months, Safi hid her work and media interviews from them. Until she realized something.

“Part of the fight is dismantling the stigma,” she said. “We shouldn’t be afraid of talking about periods and, look at me like what I’m doing. I’m hiding it from my own parents.”

She then decided to tell her parents, Nabil Safi and Baha Abouturabi. And after listening to her share more and through listening to her interviews with local media, they began to understand.

“After I listened to her interview and conversation on the radio and after she explained to me more about what she’s doing, I understood it more and became more confident in my support for her,” said her father Nabil Safi. “I think she’s doing a great job and I’m very proud of her.”

After three years of reporting on public safety in Iowa, Hillary joins Lookout Santa Cruz with a curious eye toward the county’s education beat. At the Iowa City Press-Citizen, she focused on how local...