The United Kingdom announced on Wednesday that all people who menstruate — including women and transgender people — in detention will be provided with free menstrual hygiene products in the prison.
“I have been clear that everyone who enters custody should be treated with dignity and have their personal needs met,” Nick Hurd, minister for policing and the fire service, said in a press statement.
The new law, introduced by the Home Office, will ensure that the police ask detainees about their menstrual product requirements at the earliest opportunity and meet those needs at no charge.
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The government also announced that all detainees will be able to speak to an officer of the same sex in private about their health and hygiene needs for their comfort and dignity. Transgender inmates will be allowed to choose a staff member of either sex, ,the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported.
The announcement comes one year after an independent watchdog reported that menstruating detainees were being treated unfairly in UK detention centers. In its report to the Home Office, the Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA) described heartbreaking scenes from detention centers, where menstruating women were left to bleed without management products or recorded changing tampons or pads on CCTV.
ICVA, which aims to improve custody conditions, also reported that a menstruating woman was forced to remove her clothes and underwear to put on a paper suit. She was denied sanitary products.
The organization called the treatment of these women a breach of equal rights, and urged then Home Secretary Amber Rudd to introduce new guidelines on the safe and just treatment of menstruating inmates.
“No detainee should be left to bleed for want of a difficult conversation or a cheap tampon. These changes should ensure that never happens,” aid Kate Kempen, chief executive of ICVA, in a press release.
Access to menstrual hygiene products is a basic human right. But inmates and detained people all around the world are denied this basic provision.
The United States passed a law in 2017 guaranteeing inmates in federal prisons access to free menstrual products, but state prisons, where the majority of women inmates are housed, lag behind in introducing such legislation.
In Maine, State Rep. Charlotte Warren (D), sponsored a bill that would guarantee free access to menstrual products in the state’s prisons, but several lawmakers opposed the bill.
“Quite frankly, and I don’t mean this in any disrespect, but the jail system, and the correction system, was never meant to be a country club,” State Rep. Richard Pickett (R) said, arguing against free products.
Though many around the world still experience period poverty and struggle with period taboo and stigma, any legislative changes that guarantee the basic provision of menstruation products is a major win for menstrual equity.
“These changes ensure that the needs of female detainees are addressed, that detainees have basic privacy to use a toilet and access to menstrual products and that dignity is promoted within the police custody environment,” Kempen said.