New York City is about to do something unprecedented. After a unanimous vote by the city council (49-0), the city will soon provide free tampons and pads in all public schools, jails, and homeless shelters, making it the first city in the United States to do so.
The bill, spearheaded by Council member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, would make tampons and pads available to 300,000 girls ages 11 to 18 as well as 23,000 women and girls in shelters.
Dispensers are scheduled to be placed in 800 schools with an initial cost of $3.7 million and a yearly upkeep cost of $1.9 million. An estimated 2 million tampons and 3.5 million pads will go toward shelters at an estimated annual cost of $540,000. According to New York magazine, "the city will budget for tampons and pads just like it does for toilet paper and hand soap."
Though it will not become law until enacted by Mayor Bill de Blasio, he has voiced his support, saying "tampons and pads aren't luxuries — they're necessities."
Ferreras-Copeland reiterated this point, saying "they're as necessary as toilet paper, so they ought to be just as freely accessible."
According to the bill, "feminine hygiene products are essential for the health and well-being of women and girls. Inadequate menstrual hygiene management is associated with both health and psycho-social issues, particularly among low-income women."
Providing free pads and tampons marks a significant moment in thinking about periods in term of equality and the burdens faced monthly by women, especially financially. For many low-income girls and women, getting one’s period is more than a minor inconvenience.
"Some young girls have said, ‘I know my mother is struggling to pay the bills, I don’t feel comfortable asking her for pads also,’" Ferreras-Copeland said. "So some of them would just rather stay home or find themselves using one pad for the whole day."
The impact of menstruation on girls’ absenteeism in education is a worldwide issue that organizations like UNICEF have addressed. The passage of this bill would be a move toward solving the problem by providing girls with the products they need, but can’t necessarily provide for themselves.
The bill also seeks to reduce the shame and stigma that so often surrounds talk of periods and menstrual products.
"Providing menstrual hygiene products privately, immediately and for free is also about sending a body-positive message by not perpetuating shame and humiliation, and acknowledging that women's bodies, even those of women serving time in prison, deserve some dignity during their periods," Ferreras-Copeland said in a statement.
Just last month, New York became the sixth state to eliminate sales tax on menstrual products. Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Massachusetts have all removed the so-called "tampon tax."