NYC Schools Are Latest Battleground in the Fight for Free Tampons

The legislation introduced this week would also provide more sanitary products at correctional facilities.
(Photo: Ashley Sandberg/Getty Images; inset: Loic Venance/Getty Images)
Mar 25, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Alex Reed is an editorial intern at TakePart and a senior at the University of Southern California.

While women across the United States still have to pay for their feminine hygiene products, some Gotham residents may soon have access to free tampons and pads.

On Tuesday, New York City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito introduced a series of bills that would require K–12 schools and homeless shelters to provide free sanitary products in restroom dispensers and allow for adequately available tampons and pads in correctional facilities.

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“These items are as essential as toilet paper, helping us prevent health risks and fulfill our daily activities uninterrupted,” Ferreras-Copeland said in a statement.

Roughly 79 percent of students enrolled in New York City public schools come from low-income families, according to a report from the Southern Education Foundation. Ferreras-Copeland has observed many young women struggling to afford sanitary products. The girls often skip class to avoid the embarrassment of bleeding through their clothing or having to ask for sanitary products.

“Providing young women with pads and tampons in school will help them stay focused on their learning and sends a message about value and respect for their bodies,” said Ferreras-Copeland. “No young woman should face losing class time because she is too embarrassed to ask for, can’t afford or simply cannot access feminine hygiene products.”

The legislation for students would expand Ferreras-Copeland’s initiative that put product dispensers in a high school in Queens in September. Since the installation of the free dispensers, school attendance has risen over 2 percent more than the last year, and fewer young women have asked to be excused from classes. Access will now be extended to an additional 25 middle and high schools across the Bronx and Queens, providing feminine hygiene products to an additional 11,600 girls at a cost of $160,000.

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“This has been so taboo for so long that no one even thought about it,” Ferreras-Copeland told The New York Times.

Another bill introduced this week would provide tampons and pads to women in the Big Apple’s homeless shelters. Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., convinced the Federal Emergency Management Agency to allow funds allocated for homeless shelters to cover sanitary products beginning in April. However, the new bill will also require New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to assume the costs.

If the new legislation is adopted, Ferreras-Copeland said she could also see providing free sanitary products in public parks, recreation centers, and public hospitals.

Though sanitary products are provided by the Department of Correction, jails and prisons receive only 144 generic sanitary pads per 50 inmates every week. This amounts to 12 pads per cycle for each female inmate, which Ferreras-Copeland and her team believe is inadequate. Another of her recent bills would require incarceration facilities to provide tampons and pads upon request and without limit. It would also require name-brand products to be made available through the commissary.

“You don’t ration toilet paper or ask for permission for more toilet paper; you shouldn’t have to for these products,” Ferreras-Copeland told the Times.

RELATED: After Months of Protests, Tampons Will No Longer Be a ‘Luxury Good’ in France

Along with Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and Mark-Viverito, Ferreras-Copeland also introduced a resolution asking the state to end taxation of sanitary products. On average, women pay an estimated $20 per year in taxes on feminine hygiene products.

Following global protests, several countries, including France and the United Kingdom, have dropped the tax. New York’s State Assembly passed a bill earlier this month to remove the tax, but it has yet to pass in the Senate. When it does, New York will join the 10 other states, including Hawaii and Oregon, that do not tax sanitary products.