Gov. Chris Sununu (R) signed Senate Bill 142 into law on Wednesday, ensuring free access to tampons and pads in girls’ and gender-neutral bathrooms in all New Hampshire public schools.
The bill had passed in the New Hampshire House of Representatives with a majority 211-135 vote in May, according to the Hill, and is now set to take effect in 2020. Menstrual equity advocates say the bill is part of a national wave to ensure access to free period products in schools.
Dillon, who is headed to the University of Pennsylvania in the fall and hopes to pursue a career in women’s health, first created a mock period poverty bill in June 2018 as part of a history project. She wanted to make sure the lack of access to period products and safe menstrual hygiene didn’t stop students from learning. Sen. Martha Hennessey (D) later helped Dillon bring the bill to the house.
Senate Bill 142 aims to achieve “equality and dignity,” Sununu wrote on Twitter.
Dillon was shocked to learn Gov. Sununu signed the bill when a reporter called her and broke the news Wednesday morning. She had a positive meeting with the governor last month but she had concerns that the state’s "political climate" — that is, a lack of bipartisan action and cooperation — might get in the way.
“I was so excited because I had been really nervous that it wasn’t going to go through,” she told Global Citizen.
The original bill Dillon wrote also included free access to period products in men's bathrooms, taking into consideration the fact that not all people who menstruate are women. Members of the legislature advised focusing on women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms first.
Gender identity can become controversial when advocating for menstrual equity on the state policy level, according to Nadya Okamoto, co-founder of the world’s largest youth-run menstrual hygiene organization, PERIOD.
“It suddenly becomes about values and personal beliefs on gender,” Okamoto told Global Citizen.
New Hampshire’s new period poverty bill is part of the country-wide push to ensure menstrual access for all people who are incarcerated, in public schools, and in shelters. PERIOD gathered over 100,000 signatures for a petition to the US Department of Education demanding that they stock free menstrual products in all public school restrooms. States such as New York and Georgia, and cities such as Boston and Providence, recently passed legislation to ensure access period products in schools, but achieving menstrual equity on a larger scale presents a challenge. Despite the progress, legislators still express that while it’s an important issue, it’s hard for them to stand up for it publicly, or they don’t think people will prioritize it if they do, Okamoto explained.
“Sometimes it’s a difficult conversation,” Dillon said of menstruation, “but it’s one that needs to happen for progress to be made.”
Okamoto advises anyone who wants to advocate for menstrual equity in their schools and elevate the issue, to access PERIOD’s toolkit, available on the organization’s website.
Now that Senate Bill 142 passed, Dillon and Sen. Hennessy have discussed working together on menstrual equity in prisons next.