Free tampons are a small measure that could make a huge difference for young women who can’t afford the high cost of having a period each month.
If a new set of bills passes in New York City, all public schools, homeless shelters and jails will have to provide menstrual hygiene products at no cost to women and girls, according to a news release from Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.
“No student, homeless individual or inmate should have to jump through hoops, face illness or feel humiliated because they cannot access pads or tampons," said Ferreras-Copeland, who proposed the bills, in the release. “These items are as essential as toilet paper, helping us prevent health risks and fulfill our daily activities uninterrupted.”
Public school students -- 79 percent of whom are low-income -- often struggle to afford feminine hygiene products. Girls also end up leaving class or skipping it altogether in order to manage their periods.
“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.”
This proposal would expand a recent initiative from Ferreras-Copeland that brought free pad and tampon dispensers to 25 schools in Queens and the Bronx, bringing them now to all elementary, middle and high schools in New York City.
For homeless women, free menstrual products would provide much-needed relief, as getting your period can be particularly challenging when you don’t have a permanent place to stay.
“Homeless and low-income women have a horrific time taking care of themselves during their periods,” said the office of the council member via email to the Huffington Post this month. “Resources are scarce in community centers.”
The bill would require the city to provide menstrual hygiene products in all family, women and youth shelters, as well as domestic violence shelters.
Incarcerated women also face high barriers when it comes to menstrual health: the Department of Corrections only provides 144 sanitary napkins per week for 50 inmates, according to the release. Any extra pads would have to be bought at the commissary, but most inmates can’t afford to buy pads, according to New York Magazine’s The Cut. When you're getting paid $0.75 per day for work, a 24-pack of pads for $2.63, as it costs in a Connecticut prison, can be far too expensive.
“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.”
The councilwoman foresees an easy passage of the bills, according to her office via email to the Huffington Post on Wednesday. The estimated cost to the city would be $4.5 million for the first year, and less after that, since dispensers are a onetime purchase.
In addition to the bills, the legislators introduced a resolution pushing New York State to eliminate all taxes on feminine hygiene products, according to the release.
"The ideal would be removing [menstrual products] from the list of things women feel embarrassed about," said the councilwomen's office via email to the Huffington Post. "Menstruation should not be a reoccurring social nightmare."