The period poverty movement (#EndPeriodPoverty) is causing states to repeal sales taxes on feminine hygiene products after redefining them as essential items like prescription drugs. Additionally, in New York, California, Illinois, and British Columbia, new legislation requires public schools (not universities and colleges) to provide free menstrual products in restrooms.
Last year Scotland became the first country to fund free menstrual products in all schools, colleges, and universities, and in England, after Meghan Markle raised the issue on International Women’s Day, the government agreed to fund free sanitary products for all school and college students. India has lifted the tax on feminine hygiene products, but in England and in 35 U.S. states, the products remain taxed. In the United States, funds from the Women, Infants, and Children Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can’t be used to buy period products.
On college campuses, student government organizations are leading the way in facilitating free access to menstrual products across campuses, and they are working with health services divisions, local and national non-profits, and menstrual hygiene product companies to get the goal accomplished.
At the University of California–Davis a Student Health and Counseling Services grant funds the pilot project that provides free menstrual products for nine bathrooms in five buildings, and volunteers handle the restocking duties. At the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee’s student union the sanitary products are funded from its operating budget, and at Texas A&M University–Corpus Christi the Student Government Association backed a proposal from another student organization and then successfully lobbied administrators for funds. Student government pays for, and operations staff service, free dispensers at Florida State University.
As a 16-year-old, Nadya Okamoto founded the nonprofit PERIOD. (period.org) to raise awareness about menstrual hygiene products being a basic necessity, and that the inability to access them can affect a student’s freedom to study, be healthy, and participate in society with dignity. Okamoto is now a 21-year-old on a leave of absence from her college as she heads the largest youth-run non-governmental organization focused on women’s health in the United States, with over 300 PERIOD. chapters in colleges, universities, and high schools. PERIOD. student organizations on college and university campuses have facilitated policy changes on menstrual product access. The project provides student groups and professionals with information on developing campus policies, distributing products, and educating the community.
At the federal level, a petition that has garnered almost 60,000 signatures and that can be found at PERIOD. and other sites supporting access initiatives calls on U.S. Secretary of Education Elisabeth DeVos to take action on the issue U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (New York) earlier this year introduced the Menstrual Equity For All Act of 2019. The bill would require all public federal buildings to provide free pads and tampons in the restrooms, give states the option to use federal grant funding to provide students with free menstrual products in schools, and require Medicaid to cover the cost of menstrual products for recipients. The proposal would also amend the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 to require the Department of Labor to issue a rule requiring private employers, with not less than 100 employees, to provide free menstrual hygiene products for their employees.
Free The Tampons is another U.S. nonprofit that provides resources to establish free product distribution, and companies like Hospeco and Aunt Flow, manufacturers of wall-mounted dispensers and other feminine hygiene products, have worked with student organizations. Other ACUI member schools providing free feminine hygiene products on their campuses include the University of Minnesota (since 2007), Iowa State University (since 2010), the University of Iowa, and since 2016, Saint Louis University, University of South Florida, James Madison University, Temple University, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, University of Arizona, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, University of Wisconsin–La Crosse, Elon University, University of California–Davis, Texas A&M–Corpus Christi, Florida State University, University of Washington, University of Pennsylvania, Texas State University, and The Ohio State University.