States Are Making Periods Easier with Free Menstrual Products in School Bathrooms

Tampons and pads will now be free in New Hampshire public schools.

Tampons and pads will now be free in New Hampshire public schools. Francis Ellen/Flickr

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

New Hampshire just became the fourth state to ensure bathrooms in public middle and high schools will offer free pads and tampons.

While menstruation is a natural bodily function, it often doesn’t feel that way in school. For young students, periods are often associated with stigma and shame, and can carry with them tough logistical questions when pads and tampons are too expensive to fit in a tight budget. As a result, there are many students who end up missing school when they get their periods. 

But officials hope that is set to change in New Hampshire. Tampons and pads will now be free in all female and gender neutral restrooms in both public middle and high schools. New Hampshire is the fourth state to establish such a law. 

"Providing menstrual hygiene products in public school restrooms is long overdue," said state Sen. Martha Hennessey, the primary sponsor of the bill, in an interview with CNN. "Cost and stigma can cause a lack of access to these products for New Hampshire students, which negatively impacts their productivity and attendance and makes it harder to focus on classes."

Nadya Okamoto, the founder of PERIOD, a youth-led nonprofit in Oregon that advocates for free menstrual products, said that without proper supplies, women often use “toilet paper, socks, grocery bags, and cardboard” as alternatives. 

Okamoto founded PERIOD when she was 16, as her family was experiencing housing insecurity and she began speaking with homeless women about their strategies for dealing with periods while they were living on the streets. “I’ve been there with my family, when $10 a month can feel like a lot of money. That’s a couple meals,” she said. “But not being able to afford supplies makes a difference.”

The argument for putting free products in schools, Okamoto said, is not only about those who can’t afford them, but also about people who get their period unexpectedly. Having a ready supply spares students the embarrassment of having to tell a (frequently male) school authority that they need help. “By leaving these products out there for free, schools can decrease missed class time and reduce anxiety for students,” she said. 

Though stigma is often a consideration in state legislatures who vote on these bills, much of the conversation still focuses on cost. In 2016, New York was the first state to pass legislation requiring schools to provide menstrual products for free in middle and high school bathrooms. When the law went into effect two years later, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, tweeted that “menstrual products are as necessary as toilet paper and soap, but can be one expense too many for struggling families.” In 2017, Illinois passed nearly identical legislation, because, according to the law, “feminine hygiene products are a health care necessity and not an item that can be foregone or substituted easily.” California passed a more limited bill, also in 2017, that requires schools serving a high percentage of low-income students to provide free products.

Cities have also taken up the issue. Boston recently launched a $100,000 pilot program to provide free pads and tampons in its public schools. “Nearly one in five girls in the U.S. have left school early, or missed school all together because they didn't have access to menstrual products,” said Mayor Marty Walsh in a statement. “This pilot program is about equity in our schools, and among our young people.”

New Hampshire’s law, which goes into effect immediately, doesn’t come with funding, as Boston’s pilot does. Instead, it puts the burden of cost on schools districts, and suggests that “a school district may seek grants or partner with a nonprofit or community-based organization to fulfill this obligation.”

Michael Fournier, superintendent of the Bedford School District, did not seem concerned about the cost, however, and said that since his district has already developed its 2020 budget, they will likely use Health Office funds. But Dean Cascadden, superintendent of the Bow and Dunbarton School Districts noted that school districts receive most of their money from local property taxes, which mean some are better positioned than others to handle new state requirements. 

“In the last decade, the [state] has been downshifting many costs to the local districts…[we are] one of the wealthier districts in [New Hampshire] so we will absorb this cost into our operating budget,” Cascadden said in an email. “This is just one of many examples of an unfunded mandate coming from the legislature...Some districts will really struggle with implementing this.”

Cascadden added that his district already provides menstrual products in nurses offices. “I personally do not see the need for the dispensers in the bathrooms because I felt our nurses offices are safe spaces for women to get products,” he said. “But I read some of the testimony and could see why this is a problem for some.”

Okamoto said that when her organization works with schools on the issue of funding, “administrators will bring up every barrier you can imagine” to avoid having to provide free products. But she said these conversations are important, because initiatives have to start at the school and district level before trying out legislation as a statewide requirement. PERIOD has successfully pushed twelve pieces of legislation this year, mostly at that school or city level, and is now using that momentum to urge state legislators to embrace these policies. 

Working directly with schools also allows more young people to get involved in advocacy for their needs. Okamoto, who is now 21, said that she is a “firm believer in the power of young people to make change,” (she ran for city council as an 18-year-old) and knows that “young people have been less conditioned to societal stigma around periods” making them ideal menstrual activists.

But it’s also important to cast a wider net beyond young people, and especially, Okamoto said, to get men involved. “This is not just a women’s issue and if it’s treated as such we won’t get anywhere,” she said. “The majority of decision makers on these issues are still men, and they have to be comfortable standing up for this, to be unafraid to fight for a natural, normal thing.”

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

FEATURED CASE STUDIES
Powered By The Atlas
Citizens & Town Officials Form Consensus to Update 20-Year Strategic Priorities for Lake Lure, NC
Lake Lure, NC, USA
Asheville Parks & Rec Strategic Plan Boosts Staff Participation & Deepens Community Relationships
Asheville, NC, USA
Green Infrastructure acts as a bridge for Indigenous reconciliation in Vancouver, BC
W 63rd Ave & Yukon St, Vancouver, BC V5X 2J2, Canada

NEXT STORY: Why Are Atlantic and Gulf Coast Property Owners Building Back Bigger After Hurricanes?

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.