It’s time for menstrual equity

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul
Philip Kamrass/Office of the Governor
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul

It’s time for menstrual equity

The state Legislature should require free menstrual products in public schools.
February 27, 2018

An all-male committee in the Arizona state Legislature recently debated whether incarcerated women should have free access to tampons and pads. The policy being challenged allocated only a dozen pads per person, per period – or, just about two per day for a five-day flow.

Some members of the committee expressed palpable discomfort with women’s testimony about what it really means to not have adequate menstrual coverage, the impact on one’s health and dignity. Still others balked at having to even contemplate menstruation. “I’m almost sorry I heard the bill,” one legislator said, expressing his disgust at heaving to hear talk of “pads and tampons and the problems of periods.”

It is hard to imagine that a normal bodily function for half the population – including the committee members’ own mothers, daughters and spouses – should be cause for any agitation at all.

#TimesUp on period stigma, Arizona.

Here in New York, we understand that periods and policy often need to go hand in hand. In 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law to scrap the much-maligned “tampon tax.” And New York also tackled the issue of incarcerated populations when Cuomo directed all state prisons to ensure that tampons and pads are freely available to those who need them. The U.S. Department of Justice has followed New York’s lead, issuing a guidance last summer requiring the same in federal prisons.

New York has since further stepped to the fore of the menstrual equity movement with the governor’s 2018 Women’s Agenda for New York, which includes a call on the Legislature to require free menstrual products in public schools for grades 6-12, a low-cost requirement with significant impact and implications. Similar campaigns have seen rapid success in a short time, with surprisingly robust bipartisan support and interest. In addition to New York City, new laws recently went into effect in California and Illinois requiring the same.

It’s a policy that both sides of the aisle are behind. New polling research out by the Justice Action Network, a criminal justice reform advocacy organization, shows that a whopping 90 percent of voters agree that providing menstrual products in prisons is a necessary reform, crossing partisan lines (85 percent of Republicans, 91 percent of independents, and 94 percent of Democrats).

Despite all this progress and popular support, though, all too often the experience in Arizona is what makes headlines. It is simply not acceptable for the bodies and lives of women and girls to be treated as the exception, not the rule. The inevitable result: Even basic necessities like menstrual products are considered outside of the scope of what our laws provide. (Don’t forget, free toilet paper is a given!)

And the disparate impact is real. Girls report skipping school when they can’t afford tampons or pads; homeless women resort to using brown paper bags or discarded socks; women in jails or prisons often must beg for products, or reuse the same one for days.

This has been the reality right here at home. But we are working to ensure that all New Yorkers can learn, work and live with basic human dignity, without the economic challenges posed by menstruation.

Menstrual equity can no longer take a back seat in our political discourse. It is appalling that lawmakers anywhere are too embarrassed to talk about periods in public. Here in New York, we refuse to put the lives and needs of women into the shadows. Periods have gone public – and our state will lead the charge for change. Period.

Kathy Hochul
is the 77th lieutenant governor of New York, is the chair of the New York State Women's Suffrage Commission and sits on the New York State Council on Women and Girls.
Jennifer Weiss-Wolf
is author of Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity.
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