‘Stand by Her’: In China, a Movement Hands Out Free Sanitary Pads in Schools

HONG KONG — It started when a single box of free sanitary pads appeared in a middle school classroom in October.

Then a plastic container with pads was attached to the walls of four bathrooms in a university in Shanghai.

By Monday, boxes and bags of individually wrapped pads had popped up outside bathrooms in at least 338 schools and colleges across China.

Each carried a version of the same instructions: “Take one, then put one back later. Stop period shaming.”

The pads were part of a broader effort to increase access to a product that not all students can afford, and to strip away the shame surrounding a natural bodily function that has long been stigmatized, according to organizers of a grass-roots campaign called Stand by Her.

Founded by Jiang Jinjing, a women’s rights advocate, the campaign aims to push the subject of period poverty — what the United Nations describes as the financial struggle low-income women and girls face to afford menstrual products — to the forefront of the national conversation. Ms. Jiang, who gained prominence in March after mobilizing deliveries of sanitary pads to hospitals in Wuhan, China, during the coronavirus outbreak, began the campaign to fight