Shruti Gautam, 17, of Columbia, Missouri, a senior at Rock Bridge Sr. High School, arranged to place free feminine hygiene products in the bathrooms of every high school in her school district, and worked on legislation to require that these products be readily available in high schools throughout Missouri. When Shruti entered high school, she was “taken aback” to learn that menstrual products were only available in the nurses’ office. “Far too many girls were turning to unhealthy alternatives instead of facing embarrassment and stigma” by having to go retrieve the products they needed, she said.
Shruti circulated a petition and put together a financial proposal to make feminine hygiene products freely available in her school’s bathrooms. Although people close to her initially discouraged her from pursuing this project, Shruti was adamant that “students should be able to focus on their education without worrying about their health.” She finally got her school district to fund a pilot program at her school. Between classes or during lunch, she would stock products in bathrooms and track their usage. After a year, the city’s school board allocated $20,000 to expand her program, ensuring that free-product dispensers are placed in every district high school. Shruti also worked with a state legislator on a bill to further expand the program, started a citywide chapter of a nonprofit focused on menstrual health and equity, and has received funding to research the effect of period poverty on girls across the country.