Three Albuquerque seniors pitch bill to require free feminine hygiene products in schools - Albuquerque Journal

Three Albuquerque seniors pitch bill to require free feminine hygiene products in schools

What were you doing your senior year of high school?

Albuquerque Academy seniors Noor Ali, Sophia Liem and Mireya Macías are pushing their first piece of legislation in the Roundhouse.

Their bill, which they researched, lobbied and helped draft, would require that free tampons and other feminine hygiene products be provided in New Mexico public school bathrooms.

They say the measure, House Bill 134, is a critical component of achieving equity in education, because it is often the students struggling with poverty who can’t get tampons, meaning in some cases that they don’t show up for class.

“(In) the end, what we’re fighting for is equity in health and education, and in gender,” Ali said. “When you have access to menstrual products, you can maximize your education, you can maximize your health outcomes and then therefore have a better quality of life down the line.”

The seniors’ bill started small.

First, they got free feminine hygiene products in bathrooms at Albuquerque Academy, a project that went relatively smoothly. Head of School Julianne Puente told the Journal the school implemented the changes almost immediately, and that she’s “proud that we do this.”

But the trio were intimidated by the Roundhouse and weren’t sure, as high schoolers, they’d be able to take what they’d done on the homefront further.

Once everything was in place at their school, they decided to check in on the bathrooms to see how everything was going.

Blue, yellow and green sticky notes, pasted on the walls around the new plastic bins filled with tampons and menstrual pads in the sixth-grade bathrooms greeted them, expressing heartfelt “Thank yous” scrawled with pink, purple and blue markers.

“To whoever made these baskets, thank you for your kind act in all the bathrooms. It is very helpful,” read one of the Post-its.

“You are my SAVIOR,” read another.

Sticky notes of gratitude adorn the walls around one of the baskets Albuquerque Academy seniors Noor Ali, Sophia Liem and Mireya Macías helped install at their school. (Photo courtesy of Sophia Liem and Mireya Macías)

That moment, Ali said, was the tipping point — they knew there was “something more to be done.”

Cue the young women putting some 500 hours into researching, lobbying and helping to draft the bill — sending hundreds of emails back and forth with lawmakers — all while juggling school, homework, extracurriculars and pushing their agenda in other arenas.

That includes community outreach projects, educating peers at school about the stigma against menstruation, and about how periods work, and creating a website that includes guides for getting through the legislative process for other students.

“We’re trying to get as many students as possible (involved),” Liem said.

From left, seniors Noor Ali, Mireya Macías and Sophia Liem hold feminine hygiene products in one of the bathrooms of Albuquerque Academy last week. The three spent much of their senior year pushing a bill through the Roundhouse that would provide free tampons and other products in many public school bathrooms. (Chancey Bush/Albuquerque Journal)

Eventually, two of the legislators responded — Democratic Reps. Christine Trujillo of Albuquerque and Kristina Ortez of Taos — and met with the students via Zoom.

The trio presented their research to the lawmakers, and Trujillo and Ortez heard them out. Ultimately, Trujillo helped put them in touch with a bill drafter and went on to sponsor the bill, along with Ortez and several others.

“They have been amazing with their work in terms of digging up information and (figuring out) the process it involves and who they have to speak to,” said Trujillo, who on Monday introduced the seniors to lawmakers as the “brain trust” of the bill. “I am extremely proud to work with them.”

Over two dozen people — many of them high school students just like Ali, Liem and Macías — showed up in support of the bill, which made its first committee stop Monday. Some supporters hit a couple of the same notes as the three seniors.

“As a low-income student at a Title I school, I have witnessed firsthand the tangibility of period poverty and how difficult it can be not to have concrete access to period products,” Albuquerque High School junior Lorena Madrid Larrañaga said. “Wondering … where your next pad or tampon will come from should not be a student’s main concern at school, but it often is … and it can detract from education and even cause lower attendance rates.”

A basket of feminine hygiene products in one of the Albuquerque Academy bathrooms last week. The basket is one example of the receptacles in place in bathrooms throughout the school, a project that was spearheaded by seniors Noor Ali, Mireya Macías and Sophia Liem.

After casting the second-to-last “yes” vote in what would be a unanimous recommendation to pass the bill through the House Education Committee on Monday, Rep. Joy Garratt, an Albuquerque Democrat and the committee’s vice chairwoman, pointedly reminded the trio that the “age to run for the House is 21.”

Under the bill, menstrual products would be provided in each gender-neutral and women’s bathrooms in public middle and high schools, as well as in at least one men’s bathroom. In elementary schools, they would be added in at least one of each bathroom.

Three million dollars has been set aside for the bill in both the governor’s executive budget recommendation and the Legislative Finance Committee’s. Trujillo said she doubts it will be enough, but added that it will be a “good start.” That money, Ali said, would be split between products and dispensers.

And while it’s still very early in the process, Trujillo expects few obstacles for the bill, which has also garnered the support of some of New Mexico’s top education officials.

“It’s something we ought to do. It’s the right thing to do,” now-former New Mexico Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus, who retired Friday, told the Journal. “Plus, it improves student (achievement), and it just makes the kids feel more welcome and more willing to come to school.”

All told, Ali says the bill could impact as many as 90,000 students — about 28% of New Mexico public school students.

“Social change truly does start within our community,” Macías said. “So we’re very grateful for our school community, our greater Albuquerque and the New Mexican communities for just really pouring their hearts and souls into this and helping us along.”

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