After formerly incarcerated women testified in detail about the risks and humiliation caused by sanitary pad restrictions inside the Arizona prison system, a tribunal of men voted today to unlock a bill that would allow female prisoners to access as many sanitary pads as they need to manage their periods.

The Arizona prison system currently provides a maximum of 12 pads per month to all women inmates, forcing them to ration the way they manage periods, “free bleed,” or rely on unsanitary, solutions.

The bill introduced by Arizona state representative Athena Salman would change the arbitrary rules and enable women to access unlimited sanitary pads as needed — but first it had to pass the nine-man committee. Though they expressed their discomfort with some of the testimony, the men voted five-to-four to allow the bill to proceed to the House floor for a full hearing.

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To get additional pads, the women have to ask a guard, often a man, for permission and then pay for them using their commissary accounts.

But many women, especially those who earn just 15 cents an hour performing prison labor, can’t afford the extra pads.

"Bloodstained pants, bartering and begging for pads was a regular occurrence," one woman who was formerly incarcerated testified before the state House of Representatives committee.

"You’ve got to really think if you want to sink your whole month’s income into pads,” she continued.

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Even women who can spend the money need the guard’s approval to get more pads.

One former inmate testified that guards punished women for possessing contraband after they ripped pads and turned them into tampons. Another said guards frequently denied requests for more pads.

“The humiliation is really something you carry with you forever,” said Sue Ellen Allen, who spent seven years at the state’s lone women’s prison which has about 4,000 inmates.

Salman, the bill’s sponsor, said an additional $80,000 by the state congress would provide unlimited sanitary products for all of the women in need. By comparison, US state spend $71 billion overall on prisons.

Global Citizen campaigns on ending gender discrimination and ensuring that every girl and woman has access to pads, tampons and other safe menstrual hygiene products. You can take action here.

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Arizona is not alone in tackling access to safe and sanitary menstrual hygiene for all women, regardless of cirumstance.

The issue has generated attention and action throughout the US and UK over the past few years.

In the UK, a watchdog group revealed that women are left to “free bleed” in cells, prompting nationwide outrage.

In the US, federal prisons began providing free pads and tampons to women in August 2017 after a memo issued by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Colorado allocated $40,000 for prisons to purchase and dispense free sanitary products and the New York City Council and mayor passed a law making pads and tampons free at schools, homeless shelters, and jails.


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Arizona Legislature Will Vote on Prison Sanitary Pad Restrictions

By David Brand