We need to talk about periods
Bill would make menstrual products available in schools, shelters, prisons
IN 2014 a German nongovernmental organization called WASH United dubbed May 28 “International Menstrual Hygiene Day” to raise visibility around the daily struggle many people face with menstrual hygiene management. The date was chosen intentionally as a reference to the average length of the menstrual cycle – 28 days.
Since then nine states in the US have exempted tampons from taxation, acknowledging that the state budget should not be funded by a cost borne by only half the population. In 2016, New York City passed legislation to make menstrual products available in all public schools, shelters, and prisons. And, just a few months ago, we saw a short documentary, Period. End of Sentence, take home an Academy Award and watched the filmmakers give an impassioned acceptance speech about the need for better menstrual health education and access to menstrual products across the globe.
Right here in Massachusetts, Somerville, New Bedford, and Brookline student activists are organizing to demand that bathrooms be stocked with menstrual products. And town meeting in Brookline voted last week to do just that. It can’t be denied that the menstrual equity movement is growing.
Today, our Massachusetts Legislature has an opportunity to lead the country in menstrual equity legislation by passing Mass NOW’s new bill, An Act to Increase Access to Disposable Menstrual Products in Prisons, Homeless Shelters, and Public Schools. (It’s nicknamed the “I AM. Bill.”) The bill, sponsored by Sen. Patricia Jehlen of Somerville and Reps. Jay Livingstone of Boston and Christine Barber of Somerville, contains language to ensure the products are truly accessible without stigmatizing the individual seeking them.
As it stands, over 70 legislators have signed on in support of our bill and more than 40 menstrual activists, advocacy organizations, nonprofits, businesses, and public servants in Massachusetts have signed onto the Massachusetts Menstrual Equity Coalition. But the path forward is long and our work toward ending the stigma around menstruation is far from over. There is a dearth of information about what the state of access to menstrual products is in schools, prisons, and shelters. We’re working with stakeholders across the state to gather stories from all those who would be impacted by this bill to develop an implementation strategy that’s feasible, economical, and truly a service to those it’s meant to support.
Language matters because it is a part of how systems of oppression operate. That’s why the bill refers to “menstruating individuals” – because we know that not all women menstruate, and not all menstruators identify as a woman. We also avoid using the word hygiene because periods are not something dirty that needs to be cleaned away.Mass NOW is calling on menstruators and non-menstruators alike to talk about periods. The power in the stigma and shame around menstruation – and around female and femme identifying bodies more broadly – lies in our refusal to even talk about it. We have the power to break this cycle through conversations around the dinner table, in health education classes and with Mass NOW; in consciousness raising style in living rooms across the Commonwealth. We shouldn’t need a day to talk about periods, but once you start talking about it, you’ll find that the conversation doesn’t stop flowing.
Sasha Goodfriend is the president of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization of Women.