Men Won't Stand in the Way of Menstrual Health for Arizona Prisoners, Says Lawmaker
“This is so fundamental to female dignity."
A man may have stopped a bill to provide prisoners in Arizona with as many pads and tampons as they need to manage their periods, but the fight is just getting started.
That’s according to Rep. Athena Salman, the lawmaker who sponsored the bill to topple the state prison’s arbitrary 12-pads-per-month policy.
“This is so fundamental to female dignity that it changed the conversation and that is for the betterment of women everywhere,” Salman told Global Citizen.
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In less than two weeks, Salman’s bill has transformed from an obscure piece of legislation before a state congressional committee into an international movement to ensure women can meet their menstrual health needs.
“If there aren’t more people demanding that women have equality in our country it just won’t make the agenda,” Salman said. “We have to keep pushing and when we do push we’ve shown in just a week and a half the force we are.”
On Tuesday, the state of Department of Corrections announced that it had changed its pad policy and would provide additional pads to women.
“Effective immediately, the department will increase the minimum baseline quantity that inmates receive each month, from 12 to 36,” the Department said on its website.
The Department of Corrections will also allow women — who earn 15 cents an hour for performing prison labor — to get more pads for free upon request.
That’s a positive step, Salman said, but lasting change will only come from a statute passed by the state congress. Rep. T.J. Shope, chairman of the House rules committee, stopped that from happening, however.
After Salman introduced the bill to end pad rationing, she called on former inmates and their advocates to testify before the all-male committee tasked with considering whether to unlock the bill for a full-vote.
Their detailed testimony helped convince the committee to allow the bill to proceed to a full vote. But Shope killed it, explaining that the Department of Corrections, which established the 12-pads per month rule, and not state lawmakers should change the rules on their own.
In response, women and their advocates from around the world launched the #LetItFlow campaign and flooded the offices of Shope and his male colleagues with pads, tampons, and even money.
Shope did not respond to Global Citizen’s request for comment.
Salman said she is waiting to see if the Department of Corrections actually follows through on their proposals before deciding on next steps. She also said the exclusion of tampons from the department’s policy is “horrific.”
Despite the setback, Salman said the movement has stunned her fellow lawmakers, highlighted the importance of the menstrual health to clueless men, and galvanized activists around the world.
“This isn’t something that men can necessarily empathize with,” Salman said. “At best they can sympathize but they’ve never experienced a menstrual cycle so I think that the reaction by people in the community shocked them.”
“As it should,” she continued. “People should recognize that women’s health issues, including their menstrual cycle, are things that should be taken seriously and that we as lawmakers should be protecting.”
The seeds of Arizona’s menstrual health bill grew after a bit of networking at a conference for progressive lawmakers from across the US.
At the conference, Salman said she met with Colorado state representative Leslie Herod who had succeeded in directing $40,000 of the state’s massive $26.8 billion annual budget for female inmates to get unlimited pads and tampons.
“Like everyone who just learns about this issue, I was shocked at what she was telling me,” Salman told Global Citizen. “When i got home I started talking to people to see if this was a problem and unfortunately it didn’t take me very long to find out that, yes it was indeed a problem.”
Salman said she did some “napkin math” and determined that since Arizona’s female prison population doubled that of Colorado, Arizona needed to double the funding. So she introduced a bill to provide unlimited pads and tampons for Arizona women.
That bill could be a taste of what’s to come in Arizona as Salman and her allies campaign to make prisons more just.
“[What] I hope happens in Arizona is that we’re not only addressing the menstrual health equity issue but that we continue to look at all the issues women face behind bars and try to fix those,” she said.