Whether you were unable to look away from one of the super progressive THINX subway ads or you were nodding your head in sympathy for the women on “Orange is the New Black” this season over their pad and tampon shortage, menstrual cramps and periods have been a hot topic for girl power in 2016.
Almost as if to directly respond to the OITNB fiasco, New York City introduced a landmark bill for menstrual hygiene and management. In a unanimous decision this summer, New York City Council also announced new legislation that will provide free menstrual hygiene products to women in prisons, public schools, and shelters. The law mandates free tampon and pad dispensers in public school bathrooms for students in grades six through 12. It also requires prison and jails to provide inmates with free menstrual hygiene products when they request them. Women and youth in city shelters will also have the same access to products when they need them. And even better? The law applies to transgender, intersex, and gender non-conforming New Yorkers.
“There should be no stigma around something as fundamental as menstruation. These laws recognize that feminine hygiene products are a necessity – not a luxury,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a press release. “Students should be able to concentrate on their studies, New Yorkers in shelter should be able to focus on rebuilding their lives, and women in our Correction Department should be able to work toward rehabilitation and release without the indignity of inadequate access to tampons and pads. As a father, husband and feminist, I am proud to sign these bills into law and thank sponsors Speaker Mark-Viverito and Council Members Cumbo, Ferreras-Copeland and Levin on their leadership.”
This bill comes on the heels of another monumental law signed in by New York state in May 2016, which will exempt all feminine hygiene products, (tampons, pads, panty liners, and sanitary napkins) from the 4 percent state sales tax and other local taxes, which add up to another 5 percent.
About 30 percent of New York teens live in poverty. Expensive period products, which can cost up to $100 every year, means that women and youth must often choose basic necessities like food and housing over menstrual hygiene, according to Council Members Laurie A. Cumbo and Helen Rosenthal, Co-Chairs of the Women’s Caucus of the New York City Council.
The New York city law is the first of its kind in the United States and could serve as inspiration for other cities and states to vote in similar bills.
“The signing of these bills is a giant leap forward in our fight for menstrual equality,” Congresswoman Grace Meng said in the press release. “These pieces of legislation will greatly improve access to feminine hygiene products and help remove the stigma associated with menstruation.”
Difficulty accessing affordable menstrual hygiene products is an international problem, especially in developing countries where periods are still considered taboo. In some cultures, like within Indian and Islamic traditions, women are not allowed to touch holy objects, worship in holy places, nor allowed to fast. In countries like Venezuela and Nepal, women are banished to sleep in secluded huts until their periods are finished and they can rejoin their families. It is little surprise that many women in these countries also resort to creating makeshift sanitary pads out of rags, newspaper, and sometimes even mud and treebark, according to Femme International.