Illustration by Shenuka Corea
In Oct. 2016, NYU New York began its pilot program to provide free menstrual hygiene products in select bathrooms all over campus, inspiring action in its portal campuses on the other side of the world. In Dec. 2016, NYU Shanghai started to push for menstrual hygiene products to have more budgetary allowance. Around the same time, NYU Abu Dhabi Student Government president Kelly Murphy began her efforts to bring free menstrual hygiene products to NYU Abu Dhabi.
“Earlier it was very grassroots,” Murphy said of previous efforts in the program at NYUAD. “There would be people who just left menstrual hygiene products in the bathroom for other people to use as they needed, or Student Government would receive donations of boxes of these [products] … But that’s been about as far as it goes.”
Dr. Halah Ibrahim, Executive Director of Health and Wellness, points not only to NYUNY’s actions but also to an overall trend in the U.S. as an inspiring starting point for NYUAD’s program.
“It really started in the U.S. when a lot of states started making menstrual hygiene products available free of charge in many public institutions. Universities in the U.S. also wanted to [do so] — whether it was just for access to resources or for gender equality, they wanted to make this available to their student body,” Dr. Ibrahim said.
Over the summer, Dr. Ibrahim talked with the Dean of Students Office and the Office of Health Promotion about bringing a similar pilot program to NYUAD. Dr. Halah intends to work with Student Government and involve the larger student body to discuss how the program will run.
When asked about the ideal timing of the program’s initiation, Murphy laughed – “Ideally last year,” she said. “Now I would love for it to be this year. We’re hoping to get these products not only stocked in the bathroom but also provide them for free. We’ll have a pilot program where we’ll just start in a few bathrooms and then see how it goes from there.”
The need for more easily accessible menstrual hygiene products, particularly in bathrooms at NYUAD, has been growing over the last couple of years. Dr. Ibrahim pointed to the isolation of Saadiyat Island as adding to this need.
“I think access is important,” said Dr. Ibrahim. “Because part of it is being on Saadiyat — there aren’t baqalas and stores and pharmacies, 24/7 things that are available everywhere. … We’re in a unique situation, so it makes it even more important for us to provide that support, but even if we weren’t, I think that if that’s a student need, then that’s something we can and should support.”
Mona Nehme, Class of 2018, emphasized that menstrual hygiene is a universal need.
“There are very few girls that I know who have not had the problem of getting their period unexpectedly, and having tampons and pads in the bathroom would have been very useful… in a university that tackles taboos, you’re not supposed to be ashamed of your period,” said Nehme.
Dr. Ibrahim echoed that sentiment, adding that education had a big part to play in lifting that taboo.
“We really want to launch this with some educational programming. That’s the part that’s really important to me. People come from different places where health education is variable. So this is yet another opportunity to provide information about how to manage menstrual cycles, feminine hygiene, things that you can do to prevent pain — which is why Health and Wellness and Health Promotion are working together on this,” said Dr. Ibrahim.
Murphy and Dr. Ibrahim emphasized that both administration and the community had been nothing but supportive of the program. Dr. Ibrahim maintained that apart from general logistics, she didn’t foresee any major challenges to the program. “This is easy because everyone’s on the same page,” she said.
So what is causing the delay in bringing this program to NYUAD? The trouble is neither student opposition nor lack of administrative support. In a bizarre turn of events, the delay seems to have been caused mostly by confusion over how to operate the tampon dispensers in the bathrooms.
“I started working with the executive board to try and see if we could get the boxes that were in the bathrooms to be stocked with menstrual hygiene products. And the eventual answer that I got was [that] we can, in theory, but we don’t have the keys to unlock the boxes,” said Murphy. “So that was kind of a dead end for a little bit, until we got the boxes removed. And now we are working on how next to provide them.”
Dr. Ibrahim added that there was the question of a budget.
“I mean, with everything there’s always a budget. So you have to find a budget for it, and find the people who will provide the services, and the contract — so it’s not necessarily a challenge, but something that might take a little bit of time,” said Dr. Ibrahim.
Murphy stressed that even though efforts to bring the program to NYUAD were beginning to take shape, the community still has a role to play in the process.
“How can they help? By continuing to show support. One of the most helpful things was last year when we had that Ideascale post that got over a 100 upvotes in 24 hours,” said Murphy. “That was a huge indicator that this is something that students really want and are really supportive of. So I think it would be super helpful for the community to just continue to support the program, however it takes shape.”
Shreya Shreeraman is Senior Features Editor. Email her at [email protected]