There are many days that I am proud to call myself a New Yorker, but today’s news out of my home state seriously has me grinning ear to ear. Here’s the scoop: Yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced via Twitter that all New York state schools will now be required to provide free menstrual products for girls in grades 6 through 12 — which amounts to every middle school in high school in the empire state.
Can I get an Amen?
Honestly, when I first heard this news I was immediately brought back to grade school myself. I got my first period at 10 years old, and didn’t tell a soul. Not only was I ashamed of what was happening to my body, but I felt like I needed to hide the fact that I was changing my pad every time I used the restroom.
In fact, I remember trying to camouflage my used pads by wrapping them up in about 25 pieces of toilet paper, and having my best friend (the only one I’d told about my period) guard the trash can so no one would see what I was doing as I threw it away.
A law like this one which requires pads to be available in every school restroom — just like toilet paper and paper towels — sends our girls an important message. Their periods are nothing to be ashamed of, they are not alone, and support is out there. However, it is about much more than that, too.
“Menstrual products are as necessary as toilet paper and soap, but can be one expense too many for struggling families,” explained Governor Cuomo in his now-viral tweet.
For many of us, the price of menstrual products is a no-brainer — a necessity we can afford, and likely take for granted. But the fact is, for many low-income families, the price is prohibitive; which means that all too often, young women have to choose between their next meal and a box of pads. Sometimes, they’re even required come up with make-shift solutions to substitute for store-bought sanitary products. Other times, a girl has to miss school simply because she has her period.
And if you think this sort of problem only happens elsewhere — perhaps only in more impoverished countries than the U.S. — think again. A press release from January about the proposed New York state mandate explains exactly why “period poverty” is an issue that affects women and girls not just in New York state, but all over the world.
“In New York, 42 percent of children live in low income families,” the press release explains. “At $7 to $10 per package, a month’s supply of something as simple as a box of pads or tampons can be one expense too many for struggling families.” According to the release. the United Nations even considers lack of access to menstrual hygiene products to be a “human rights” issue.
In other words: Access to menstrual products should be considered as basic as having clean water, sanitary living conditions, and access to a free education. And no young woman should be denied that.
Governor Cuomo hasn’t been the only New York state official championing this cause. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal introduced the bill requiring menstrual products in school last year — along with two other bills supporting an increase in access to menstrual products to vulnerable populations, including homeless shelters and correctional facilities.
“Let me be clear,” Rosenthal stated in a May 2017 press release. “Menstruating is not a luxury; it is a biological phenomenon that necessitates the use of products that are costly. However, month after month, women are forced to swallow their pride and sacrifice their well-being when deciding whether to purchase tampons or put food on the table.”
This bill isn’t the only measure New York has taken to ease the burden of low-income families when it comes to menstrual product access. In 2016, New York state became the 11th state to eliminate taxes on all menstrual products. But even this is not enough for families living in poverty.
As Rosenthal explains, the cost of menstrual products can amount to several hundred dollars per year, which many low-income families simply do not have. And because some young women do not attend school during their periods for this reason, providing them with menstrual products is in fact an educational policy.
“No student should miss a day of school or feel ashamed because they don’t have access to tampons or pads,” Rosenthal told Politico. “Requiring schools statewide to provide students with access to menstrual hygiene products is a long-overdue move that will help remove barriers to learning and the strong stigmas still associated with normal bodily function.”
And as if all of this wasn’t awesome enough, this particular measure is part of Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Agenda For New York, a budgetary proposal with the prime focus of empowering women in New York state. In addition to providing free menstrual products in New York state schools, the governor has proposed measures to “close the gender gap” in STEM learning programs and provide more mentoring opportunities for girls.
“New York leads the nation in championing women’s rights and breaking down barriers to equality, and that mission starts when women are girls,” said Governor Cuomo. “With these proposals, New York is demonstrating our commitment to empowering women throughout their lifetimes, and showing girls that they can do anything.”
Yes, we girls most certainly can do anything! And although there is certainly more to be done in terms of giving young women all the opportunities they deserve, measures like these really do a world of good when it comes to sending girls the message that they matter.