PARK SLOPE, BROOKLYN (Patch) -- Girls throughout North Brooklyn who may have previously dreaded going to school on their period because of a lack of menstrual products or receptacles can thank a group of local Girl Scouts that relief is on the way.
Two Girl Scouts from Troop 2653, which meets in Windsor Terrace, recently finished a two-year long investigation into whether local schools were following "menstrual equity" requirements set forth by a 2016 package of city laws.
And when it turned out — unsurprisingly based on what they had heard from friends — that almost no schools had the proper product dispensers and sanitary bins, they decided it was time for a change.
"So many girls in public schools don't have what they need in their daily lives and nobody even talks about it," said Skyler Kim-Schellinger, one of the 14-year-olds that led the project. "We started to address that."
The girls have since met with the principal to have bins installed at their own middle school in Midwood and presented the results to the Brooklyn North Borough Field Support Center, which oversees 255 schools in the borough. The officials promised that the requirements would become part of janitor's checklists and that they would add it to employment reviews to ensure it was followed.
The project, which the Kim-Schellinger and Arushi Kher completed as their Girl Scout's "Silver Award," looked at a total of 23 schools throughout districts 15 and 20, which oversee Brooklyn's southwest and northwest corners. Only 18 percent of the schools had both sanitary bins in the bathrooms and free, working dispensers, the girls said.
Without the bins or dispensers, girls on their period would often be forced to stuff sanitary products in windowsills or behind toilets to avoid embarrassment of walking to a trash can outside the bathroom, Kher said. The lack of privacy created "emotional turmoil" in the already difficult time and was likely one of the reasons the issue went unaddressed, troop leader Hemalee Patel added.
"If you're an 11-year-old girl who gets her period for the first time, you're not going to go to the principal or custodian and say, 'I have to carry my trash home,'" she said. "'Even (the moms) didn't know...it's not the kind of thing that girls come home and report."
The problem might also have been that the schools hadn't caught up to the new menstrual equity laws passed in 2016, she added. The law requires facilities such as public schools, homeless shelters and jails to provide free feminine hygiene products to students and residents.
A Department of Education spokesperson didn't immediately respond to whether other schools across the city still need to put the requirements in place.
To do the survey, the girls, with help from some of their troop members, called, emailed and then physically went to many of the schools. They ran into trouble, though, when their calls weren't returned or the school officials wouldn't let them inside.
Eventually, the troop enlisted the help of North Brooklyn's deputy director of facilities, Alea Stormer, who came with them to the remaining schools in District 15, which were very responsive.
Both girls said the issue represents a larger problem of the culture surrounding menstruation worldwide. The idea for the project started when Patel brought an article to the Girl Scout meeting about how girls in third-world countries don't have access to feminine hygiene products, they said.
The girls recently met with a Women's Health and Reproductive Rights (WHARR), a Brooklyn nonprofit, that was inspired by their project to potentially study access to menstrual products in women's prisons.
For now, though, the girls still mark helping thousands of students here in Brooklyn a huge success.
"It feels good to be the voice for our peers," Kher said. "That's part of the whole idea of the Silver Award — helping our community. Our community was the middle schools girls and somebody needs to represent them. I'm glad we were able to."