New York City public schools have launched a program that will provide free feminine hygiene products in girls’ restrooms, an initiative that has the potential to empower young women.
This program, the only government initiative of its kind in the nation, will provide tampons and sanitary napkins for free to 11,600 girls in school districts 9 in the Bronx and 24 in Queens, some of the most impoverished areas of the city.
Due to lack of access to sanitary products, girls in the US and abroad are often forced to miss school and are susceptible to infection and other dangerous effects. Low-income students are affected the most by this.
In other countries, the problem is more severe. In Kenya, for instance, sanitary pads cost about 60 cents a package. For an average girl, that is way too expensive. The average daily household income for a middle-class family in Kenya is $3.
As a result, menstruating girls often resort to using rags, leaves, newspaper, bits of mattress stuffing or even mud, to provide some sort of protection. Not only is this method uncomfortable and ineffective, it can lead to serious infections and life threatening symptoms.
Even within the US, homeless women report that getting their periods is the most difficult part of being on the streets because hygiene products are so expensive.
For low-income students in New York’s public school system, this problem is not only a source of shame but it also impedes educational progress.
So New York City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and the New York City Department of Education alongside Congresswoman Grace Meng and Education Chair Daniel Dromm addressed the issue directly. In doing so, they made a major advancement in efforts to reduce health risks, increase access to essential feminine care for low-income girls, and promote dignity and respect for girls' menstruation.
The installation of the free dispensers in 25 public schools stems from a campaign launched by Councilwoman Ferreras-Copeland in September 2015 at the High School for Arts and Business, a high school located in the Bronx.
Attendance at the school increased from 90% to 92.4% since the installation of the free dispensers and fewer girls asked to be excused from their classes throughout the day.
Previously, Councilwoman Ferras-Copeland had noticed that girls were asking to go home or skipping their after school classes because they were too embarrassed to ask for pads or had already stained their clothes.
"Every young person should have their essential needs met in order to do well in school. Feminine hygiene products are as essential as toilet paper, helping women prevent health risks and fulfill their daily activities uninterrupted by nature. Providing young women with pads and tampons in schools will help them stay focused on their learning and sends a message about value and respect for their bodies. No young woman should face losing class time because she is too embarrassed to ask for, can't afford or simply cannot access feminine hygiene products. Today, I am proud to be a New Yorker and live in the city that's leading this effort to bring greater access to essential feminine care products for young women," said Ferreras-Copeland.
The Department of Education will provide menstrual education in health classes and additional information on posters and brochures.
While this initiative should have been enacted long ago, it will hopefully spark similar efforts across the country. If this happens, the stigma associated with getting periods during school will finally be removed, and then girls and women will finally be able to get through their days with one less obstacle to contend with.