New York City Council Greatly Expands Access to Menstrual Hygiene Products

The New York City Council passed legislation that will provide access to free menstrual hygiene products such as pads and tampons in public schools, homeless shelters, and the city’s correctional facilities. The measures are the latest advancement in the movement for menstrual equity in New York following legislation passed by the state legislature ending the sales tax on menstrual hygiene products.

Before the measure was approved, menstrual hygiene products were unavailable in schools and shelters. City jails only provided pads to inmates, and the number of products given to individual inmates was capped at approximately 12 pads per person for the duration of their periods. If that was not a sufficient supply for an individual, they had to purchase more pads from the commissary at their own expense.

The three bills approved by the City Council will change these outdated and sexist rules. Dispensers will be installed in 800 schools, giving 300,000 students access to menstrual supplies. Shelters will provide pads and tampons to over 20,000 homeless women and girls, and city jails will eliminate the cap on the number of menstrual products available to inmates and allow access to both tampons and pads

Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland spearheaded the initiative, having created a similar pilot program in her district of Queens. That program was first implemented in September 2015 at the High School for Arts and Business when a free dispenser was installed in the girls’ restroom. Since then, the school has seen a 2.4% increase in attendance, and the program has been implemented at 24 more schools. “I just love that we’re able to do this for the women in New York City, for young girls to know that they’re valued and important,” she said.

These initiatives are another step taken in New York to expand access to menstrual hygiene products and promote what is known as “menstrual equity.” In May, the state legislature passed a measure to end the sales tax on menstrual hygiene products.

Proponents of “menstrual equity” believe that access to menstrual products is a human right, vital to the health and wellbeing of people with periods. Organizations like Free the Tampons argue that toilet paper and soap are considered basic necessities and are provided freely, and the same logic should apply to menstrual hygiene products. Lack of adequate menstrual hygiene products is not only inconvenient and embarrassing for people who cannot afford them, but can also be dangerous when women are forced to wear a pad or tampon for so long that they risk infection. Compounded with the social stigma attached to menstruation, this financial barrier to accessing menstrual hygiene products creates an unfair burden on people who menstruate.

As writer and lawyer Jennifer Weiss-Wolf said, “As a society, we have an interest in ensuring that girls don’t fall behind in school and women aren’t unproductive at their jobs simply because they can’t afford these products.” These bills approved in New York City are an important win for the menstrual equity movement, and will provide access to necessary healthcare products for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.

The bills currently await Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature.

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