For decades, women have had to deal with infuriating, unreliable tampon dispensers in public restrooms, where if you’re lucky enough to find one working, you’re almost sure to find out it’s out of stock.
But all the frustrations about how (or whether) tampon dispensers work can drown out a seemingly obvious question: Why aren’t tampons free to begin with? We don’t expect bathroom users to pay for toilet paper, soap, water or paper towels, so why should it be different for tampons?
That’s the question being pushed into the cultural conversation today, International Women’s Day, by the creators of mobile-activated tampon dispenser Hooha and the advocacy group Period.
To get people talking about expanding, modernizing and simplifying access to tampons, Hooha’s developers at agency Huge partnered with Period to create a coin-operated toilet paper dispenser that could be installed in a men’s restroom. A video explains the idea and why the creators felt it was necessary:
“If you walked into a bathroom and there was no toilet paper, you’d be really frustrated,” said Nadya Okamoto, the 22-year-old founder of Period, which advocates for better access to menstruation products. “Menstruation is just as natural and can come just as unexpectedly. We are fighting for freely accessible period products in schools, shelters and prisons—because menstrual hygiene is a right and not a privilege.”
Huge, a digitally focused global agency owned by Interpublic Group, began rolling out prototypes of Hooha on 2019’s International Women’s Day.
Developed by Stephanie Loffredo, associate director of social marketing at Huge, Hooha was created to replace archaic tampon dispensers in public or office restrooms with a reliable and modern machine that users can text to dispense a free tampon. The design also includes a window to make it clear how many tampons are still in stock.
“Last year, we built Hooha, a smart tampon dispenser you can text for a free tampon, which helped start a conversation about tampon accessibility in public restrooms,” Loffredo said. “This year, we wanted to drive the point home, so we partnered with Period to recreate the experience of what it feels like when you’re asked to pay for a basic human need with an obsolete form of payment.”
While the video’s scenes were obviously dramatized for filming, the coin-operated toilet paper dispenser was installed in a bathroom for a day, during which it offered a “pay with a tweet” option to let men share a message of solidarity with women via the #FreeThePeriod hashtag.
Similarly, a social media campaign around the video launch is encouraging supporters to tweet bathroom selfies with messages about how schools, workplaces and businesses should offer easy access to period products, with organizers encouraging the use of the #FreeThePeriod hashtag and tagging @periodmovement.