Girls who come from low-income families say they're sometimes reluctant to ask their parents to buy tampons or pads. So New York City schools are doing something about it.
Starting this week, girls at 25 public schools in Queens and the Bronx will have complimentary sanitary protection available in school restrooms, according to the New York Daily News. This will provide much-needed access to affordable menstrual products to over 11,000 students.
"No young woman should face losing class time because she is too embarrassed to ask for, can't afford or simply cannot access feminine hygiene products,” said Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, the City Councilwoman (D-Queens) who came up with the idea for the program, in a news release. "Providing young women with pads and tampons in schools will help them stay focused on their learning and sends a message about value and respect for their bodies."
In New York City, an alarming 79 percent of public school students are from low-income families, according to a report from the Southern Education Foundation.
"No young woman should face losing class time because she can't afford feminine hygiene products.”
Tampons cost $7 on average at Walgreens -- and when you have to change them several times per day, for several days per month, the bill can rack up fast. Over a lifetime, the costs associated with getting your period -- from tampons to pads to pain meds -- can cost a woman an estimated $18,000.
“Some young girls have said, ‘I know my mother is struggling to pay the bills, I don’t feel comfortable asking her for pads also,’” Ferreras-Copeland said to New York Magazine in September. “So some of them would just rather stay home or find themselves using one pad for the whole day.”
Ferreras-Copeland launched the pilot program at one school in Queens last year, the Queens High School for Arts and Business.
The idea was that offering free menstrual products would help to avoid health risks and reduce the stigma around periods, Ferreras-Copeland told the Queens Courier. It also would mean fewer skipped classes due to menstruation.
Depending on the success of the program, free feminine hygiene products could be made available in schools citywide, according to the Daily News.
“Tampons and pads should be treated just like toilet paper. [They] tend to our everyday, normal bodily functions."
Some women have argued that free tampons should be a human right -- and that the high price tags and taxes on the products are a violation of that right.
“Tampons and pads should be treated just like toilet paper," said Nancy Kramer, the woman behind the "Free the Tampons" campaign, to The Huffington Post earlier this month. "They serve the same purpose -- items to tend to our everyday, normal bodily functions."
In some countries, the unavailability of menstrual products can be a serious barrier to girls attending and staying in school, according to Unicef. In some areas of India, for instance, menstruation is considered impure and girls are encouraged to skip school and stay home.
“Over two-thirds of the girls studying in standard 8 and 9 skipped schools during their periods,” said George Jessunesan, headmaster of a girls’ high school in southern India, to Unicef. “This hampered their studies and eventually one-third of these girls would drop-out.”
For homeless women in particular, taking care of their feminine hygiene needs can be a serious challenge, between the pricey menstrual products and the lack of donations of tampons and pads to shelters.
"Homeless and low-income women have a horrific time taking care of themselves during their periods," said the office of Council Member Ferreras-Copeland via email to the Huffington Post. "Resources are scarce in community centers."
If you want to help, in addition to food and clothing, you should consider donating feminine hygiene products to local food pantries and shelters, or supporting an organization like Distributing Dignity, dedicated to getting feminine hygiene products to women in need.