When Periods Are Political: 5 Laws That Stigmatize Menstruation
Tampon taxes and substandard sex ed continue to prop up period taboos.
Across the US, millions of girls, women, and their allies across the gender spectrum have raised their voices and talked openly about their periods in an effort to destigmatize menstruation.
Their efforts have certainly paid off. Nationwide, cities and states continue to pass new laws that make pads, tampons, and other menstrual health products more accessible. In 2016, New York state passed a law to repeal the sales tax on pads and tampons. That same year, New York City became the first city to dispense period products for free inside public schools, homeless shelters, and other municipal facilities.
In 2017, the state of Illinois followed suit, making tampons and pads free inside public schools.
Take Action: #ItsBloodyTime to End the Taboo Around Menstruation
In addition to making it easier for women and girls to manage their periods, the new laws chip away at period taboos that too often fuel silence and shame around menstruation.
But they’re just the beginning.
Despite the massive movement to destigmatize menstruation, period injustices persist across the US. And nationwide, advocates are working hard to counter these five laws in particular that prop up period stigma.
1// No Safety Net Program Helps Women Who Literally Cannot Afford Tampons and Pads
The US provides a few safety net programs to assist poor women and low-income mothers in need of a hand-up. There’s the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program designed to help low-income families with young children afford food. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program — also known as food stamps — provides a small food allowance that helps people below a certain income level afford groceries.
Those programs certainly help uplift millions of women around the US, but neither one covers period products.
That’s a big deal for the lowest income Americans, especially those receiving public assistance benefits. In Mississippi, public assistance recipients receive as little as $170 per month — or just $2,040 per year.
At the same time, Jezebel.com estimates that women spend about $61 a year on items to prevent free-bleeding. That means women who receive public assistance in Mississippi might have to devote 3% of their total income toward purchasing tampons, pads, and cups.
Fortunately, several cities and nonprofits have launched efforts to ensure that low-income girls and women, like those residing in New York City’s shelter system, can get the expensive period products they need.
2// State Prison Enforce Arbitrary Pad Limits
Women in Arizona are sending pads and tampons to state representative who stalled feminine hygiene product bill. The bill would give female inmates in Arizona unlimited access to feminine hygiene products.#LetItFlow#TheSyndromeMagpic.twitter.com/7o5yuGOgeM— The Syndrome Mag (@thesyndromemag) February 22, 2018
Until February, women in Arizona’s prison system could only access 12 sanitary pads per month — nowhere near what many women need when they have their period.
If inmates wanted more, they had to ask prison guards who often denied their requests. Arizona’s arbitrary pad-rationing provision forced women to ration the way they manage periods, “free bleed,” or rely on unsanitary, solutions. They were also unable to get tampons.
But the rules began to change when State Rep. Athena Salman introduced a measure to supply more pads and tampons to women in prison. She enlisted former inmates and women’s rights advocates to testify about their experiences before an all-male congressional committee. Their testimony had a big impact, inspiring the committee to unlock the bill for a full House vote.
But a few days later, the chairman of the state House of Representatives killed Salman’s bill.
His decision only served to fuel the movement to ensure women have access to the materials they need to manage their menstrual health. A passionate response by women across the US and the world motivated the Department of Corrections to change their guidelines regarding pad access.
As of mid-February, female prisoners can now access up to 36 pads per month. The new rule by the Department of Corrections is a good start, but several issues remain. The increased pad-ration has not been codified into state law— which means it can revert back to the 12-pad limit— and women still have to ask for permission to get more pads if needed.