New York City made history today with passage of the nation’s first legislative package to ensure access to menstrual products in public schools, shelters and corrections facilities.

In doing so, New York has stepped out as a leader in a growing national and global movement for menstrual equity. The city’s new laws acknowledge that the ability to manage menstruation falls squarely at the intersection of sound health, economic and educational policy.

The need to tackle this issue is not new.

While menstruation has been a taboo and “off limits” topic since Adam and Eve, around the world there are legions of activists working to raise awareness of the devastating impact caused by lack of access to affordable, safe menstrual products.

Last year, menstrual activism captured so many headlines that NPR dubbed it “The Year of the Period” and Cosmopolitan proclaimed it was “the year the period went public.”

Public policy has been a key lever for change. Perhaps the issue that has garnered the most global prominence is the “tampon tax.”  Canada abolished its national Goods and Services Tax on menstrual products last summer. A petition in the United Kingdom garnered more than 300,000 signatures and spurred a ruling by the European Union to allow member states to reduce the Value Added Tax on menstrual products to zero. Kenya not only eliminated the tax but also since 2011 has budgeted the equivalent of $3 million per year to distribute free sanitary pads in schools in low-income communities.

In the United States this year, fifteen of the 40 states that still have a “tampon tax” moved to change it.


Illinois and New York State both passed laws that now await their respective governor’s signature; Connecticut eliminated the tampon tax in its budget, effective 2018. Just last week, the American Medical Association released a statement urging states to exempt menstrual products from sales tax.

But for those who are struggling, a tax saving of pennies on the dollar isn’t likely to provide anything close to real relief. That’s why the New York City agenda emphasizes access for the most vulnerable populations, focusing on three areas in particular:


 Through her Let Girls Learn initiative, First Lady Michelle Obama deemed the provision of tampons and pads an issue of educational equity. Inability to access menstrual products can affect attendance and productivity, a finding documented over and over again in developing countries. The cost of tampons or pads, at $7 – $10 each month, can be one expense too many for struggling families. And unlike toilet paper — which is freely available in public and school restrooms, funded by city budgets and viewed as essential to everyday health and sanitation — those living in poverty are left to access tampons and pads on their own.


Many of the city’s homeless women have shared the urgent need for access to tampons and pads in shelters. Inability to access menstrual products is not just unsanitary and unhealthy for the days one is menstruating, but also amounts to having to wear blood-soaked clothing for days or even weeks. It is inhumane to leave fellow citizens, quite literally, to bleed in the streets.

Correctional facilities

The health and dignity of those who are incarcerated is compromised when prisons and jails fail to provide adequate menstrual products. The Correctional Association of New York released a study in February 2015 designating lack of access to menstrual products among the top reproductive health crises for incarcerated women in New York state (along with shackling women during labor). At one New York prison, doctors insisted that women show a bag filled with their used pads as proof they needed more.

Back in January when President Obama was asked in a live interview about the tampon tax, the tenor of his response was breathtaking.

In a nutshell, he said that women’s experiences aren’t always reflected in our laws because women are often not at the decision-making table. In New York City, leaders like Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who helped to develop this focus and sponsored related bills, are not just at the table; they are at the head of it. And they are championing our health and lives with gusto.

New York City made history for menstrual equity with the passage of this legislation – and the rest of the country, and the world, should follow.

Courtesy of: MARA GAY – Wall Street Journal.

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About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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