Providence — the state capital of Rhode Island — has become the latest city in the United States to mandate the provision of free feminine hygiene products in all public middle schools and high schools, the Associated Press reported. The move, announced on Wednesday, comes after several states pushed to end the “tampon tax” last year.
“No student should have to limit their education or miss school activities because they are menstruating,” Mayor Jorge Elorza said in a press release.
Take Action: End Period Stigma on International Day of the Girl!
“When students are forced to disrupt their regular activity, they miss opportunities, it affects their self-esteem, and it reinforces stigma,” Elorza added.
Period products are still taxed as a “luxury item” in the state, but tampons and pads will soon be available at all middle and high schools around Providence.
Dispensers carrying free period products have already been installed in female and gender neutral bathrooms at Hope High School and DelSesto Middle School, as well as in one female and one gender-neutral bathroom at Classical High School and Nathanael Greene Middle School in the city.
The city has budgeted $75,000 for the program, first introduced last year in Elorza’s proposed fiscal budget for 2019.
“It has also come to our attention that young girls in our city suffer due to a lack of access to menstrual hygiene products in our schools, sometimes causing them to skip school or suffer in silence,” he said during a press conference.
Elorza’s statement highlights a bigger issue currently faced by girls and women across the US and the world.
Whether women refer to their periods as “Shark Week,” “Aunty Flo,” or some other euphemism; chances are, if they menstruate, they know the pain — and the cost of it.
A box of 36 tampons in the US typically costs about $7, according to the HuffPost. This means, that over the course of a lifetime, women spend about $2,200 on sanitary pads and tampons.
For many girls and women living in poverty, this is an expense they cannot easily afford. With no affordable, safe way to manage their menstruation, they may end up skipping school or work.
Read More: Period Poverty: Everything You Need to Know
Period poverty — a lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints — is a reality that has put 40 million girls and women at a disadvantage globally. One in 5 girls in the US has skipped school because she did not have access to period products. UNICEF estimates that roughly 1 in 10 girls in Africa misses school because of their periods each year.
In some places, a lack of access to affordable period products, or any products at all, have forced girls to turn to alternatives like using one tampon a day, or one sanitary napkin for multiple days. In some instances girls resort to using cloth, newspapers, and dishrags, putting their health at risk.
In countries like Bangladesh and India, poor menstrual hygiene resulting from the inaccessibility of menstrual hygiene management products, leads to infections and cervical cancer in many women.
"Our students deserve equal access to quality menstrual products without stigma because having a period is not a taboo, it is a component of our youth's reproductive health," Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune, who launched the pilot period program with Mayor Jorge Elorza, said.
Despite the United Nations recognizing access to menstrual hygiene and care as a global public health priority and human rights issue, change appears gradual but slow.