“In my mind, urination, defecation, and menstruation are biological processes that shouldn’t be treated any differently from each other, because we can’t control any of them,” says Diya Khullar, a Northeastern student majoring in health science. In an effort to normalise menstruation and point out the unfair discrepancy, she raises a question asking why toilet paper was provided free of charge whereas tampons and sanitary pads are available only at purchase. Mark Boulter, director of building services in Northeastern’s Facilities Division, joined her in her effort to provide tampons for free and began by retrofitting tampon dispensers in the most crowded washrooms in campus.
“It was just something that made so much sense,” Boulter said. “This is what it’s all about; we’re here to work with students to get great ideas off the ground.” As the first round of retrofitting went smoothly, he began initiating steps to install these in other washrooms of the campus as well. Free the Tampons Foundation is a national organisation focused on increasing accessibility of free tampons in public washrooms. Khullar went on and partnered with Northeastern’s Feminist Student Organization whose secretary, Trea Lavery, worked closely with Khullar throughout the process.
Through this project, Khullar was able to touch health issues around the world. “On the surface, something like this might seem pretty basic, but it speaks to a critical public health need,” Neil Maniar, director of the university’s Master of Public Health program said. “It should be completely unacceptable to us as a society to have products that are so important for health locked behind financial or statutory barriers.” Taking her initiative forward, Khullar attempts to provide availability of free tampons at all 86 gender neutral restrooms on campus. “I don’t want to stop at just women’s bathrooms,” she said. “I want to reach the entire population that menstruates, and that includes people who are transgender and gender non-conforming.”