Home Youth activism Fighting period poverty: Massachusetts bill would make menstrual products free and accessible in public schools, prisons and shelters

Fighting period poverty: Massachusetts bill would make menstrual products free and accessible in public schools, prisons and shelters

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A student at Somerville High School on his period has five minutes to get the products he needs, climbing stairs between the nurses’ office, the bathroom and back to class, while hiding the process in the middle societal stigma.

State Sen. Pat Jehlen described how it’s a reality for teens in Somerville, something she learned from a group of college students who gave a presentation on the issue. If a nurse ran out of menstrual products that day, some would even buy sanitary napkins with their own money to help the students.

If the nurse can’t help them and the students don’t have access to the menstrual products they need, they can either call a parent/guardian, go home, or bleed through their clothes, which Jehlen says , is not a good option.

A bill that would require all public schools, prisons and shelters in Massachusetts to provide free and easily accessible menstrual products could prevent this from happening in the future.

“It’s a growing feminist resurgence, I would say — young women, who aren’t afraid of their bodies and aren’t embarrassed to have a body,” said Jehlen, a Somerville Democrat.

Called the I Am Bill (H.1959), the legislation was co-authored by Mass NOW, an intersectional feminist nonprofit, and is sponsored by Rep. Christine Barber, Rep. Jay Livingstone, and Jehlen.

“It was really important for Mass Now, in working on this bill, to use the word ‘menstruating person’ in the language of the bill because we know that not all women get their periods and all menstruating people don’t identify as female,” Sasha Goodfriend, executive director of Mass Now told MassLive. “It was really important to us to make sure menstrual products were in bathrooms and in all bathrooms used by menstruating people, because we believe no one should have to ask permission to get a menstrual product.”

The bill also provides language to ensure that products are genuinely accessible without stigmatizing the person seeking them. This includes offering disposables, sanitary napkins, tampons and underwear liners to anyone on their period.

“Disposable menstrual products shall be provided free of charge to menstruating individuals who are housed in state correctional facilities and county jails and reformatories used for the general isolation of individuals and in any other facilities for ‘State or local where menstruating persons are detained or confined by law enforcement agencies,’ the bill reads.

All schools with students in grades 6-12 will be required to provide free disposable menstrual products in all washrooms.

The chief administrator of a state prison, jail, reformatory or other detention facility as well as any provider of temporary housing assistance, including a family shelter, a adult shelter, hotel used as an emergency shelter, emergency apartment, violence shelter, runaway and homeless youth shelter or refugee safe house law Project.

In any case, the products must be provided “in a convenient way that does not stigmatize anyone looking for such products”.

These three locations were chosen based on similar legislation in New York, Goodfriend said, and if passed, the I Am Bill would become the most comprehensive menstrual fairness legislation in the country.

“We know that anyone who is homeless or in insecure housing, if they’re struggling to pay their rent and they’re struggling to pay for their food, then we know they’re absolutely struggling to pay for menstrual products. , because there is a cost,” Goodfriend said, adding that incarcerated people have the least choice over their bodies. “Menstrual health is a human right.”

The problem comes down to so-called “period poverty,” a term used to describe a lack of access to menstrual products.

“We heard from menstruators who were previously incarcerated, for example, that people use pads as tampons because tampons are hard to find. And we heard that people were using the cardboard boxes themselves as tampons,” Goodfriend said. “We have heard that people…who are not only incarcerated but living in poverty are using discarded rags or t-shirts, which is not necessarily an unsanitary substitute, but in practice it is is often the case.”

The bill passed the state Senate unanimously on Thursday and is now before the House for passage. Mass Now is urging House Speaker Ronald Mariano to pass it as soon as possible.

“There doesn’t seem to be any opposition. Sometimes you’ll have people who, you know, think it’s really funny or they can crack a joke,” Jehlen said. She explained how some people ask menstruators to “just bring their own tampons from home.”

To this, lawmakers respond, “Do you carry your own toilet paper?

“When people first hear about it and haven’t thought about it, it seems strange. But the minute they really think about it, it seems normal that you wouldn’t walk into a bathroom and find out what you needed,” Jehlen said.

Goodfriend said she was happy to see lawmakers supporting “menstrual dignity” and expressed her gratitude to lawmakers who worked to make the bill possible.

“This is the first time the Massachusetts Legislature has been asked to consider menstrual poverty as an issue. And so there was a lot of groundwork we needed to do to explain that,” she said. .

Goodfriend added that the vote took place in the Senate because of the hundreds of people who supported him across the state, sharing their experiences with the period of poverty. She said she was grateful to people who had the courage to break the silence around menstruation to advocate for greater access to products.

“The stigma around menstruation is why this issue of menstrual poverty hasn’t been addressed before by a body like the Massachusetts Senate,” she said. “Today’s Senate vote makes a huge difference in setting the tone for culture change around being shameless and unashamed of being a menstruating person.”

Jehlen also spoke about the stigma surrounding menstruation, adding that in her generation and until recently, people were very reluctant to even use certain period words in public, worried that it might be embarrassing.

US Representative Ayanna Pressley, who represents Boston and surrounding areas in Congress, echoed that, speaking at a Mass Now event.

“Let’s talk straight about the rules,” the Boston Democrat said. “Because one of the biggest barriers to menstrual impediments is intentional period stigma. A period is not a curse, it’s not an omen. It’s a biological process that, according to Global Citizen, 800 million people live daily, yet we talk about menstruation in whispered euphemisms.

But youth activism on this bill is fighting the stigma around periods.

“It’s not just what the bill does, but the fact that it stems from the work of so many young people,” Jehlen said, adding that watching young people organize was very important to her. , to reach out to lawmakers and make the I am bill possible.

“We can recognize their voices, and make them feel heard, and that will make them more willing to participate in democracy in the future,” she continued. “We really need all the support we can get for democracy these days.”

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