Free period products in MA public schools, homeless shelters, and prisons.

The Massachusetts State House and Senate

PERIOD is the largest youth-run NGO in women’s health in the world. We provide and celebrate menstrual hygiene through service, education, and policy — through the global distribution of period products to those in need, and engagement of youth leadership through a nationwide network of campus chapters. In the last three years, we have addressed over 1 Million periods and have registered over 700 campus chapters at universities and high schools in the United States and abroad.

Sponsored by
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Portland, OR

To: The Massachusetts State House and Senate
From: [Your Name]

The #FreeThePeriod Coalition is joining the Massachusetts Menstrual Equity Coalition to call Massachusetts to mandate the provision of free menstrual products in all public schools grades 6-12, homeless shelters, and prisons by passing the I AM Bill (S.1274/H.1959).

The emergency response to the coronavirus has people stockpiling household items like hand soap, toilet paper and even menstrual products. While many of us are preparing for up to eight weeks in quarantine, those who experience period poverty, or the inability to afford or access menstrual products, will be forced to resort to unhygienic methods of maintaining their periods, which can lead to infections such as toxic shock syndrome.

The virus unmasks the underlying issue of period poverty, which is why Massachusetts must act now to pass the I AM Bill S.1274/H.1959 and ensure equitable access to menstrual products in all public schools, homeless shelters, and prisons.

Just like toilet paper and soap, pads and tampons are basic hygiene necessities. However, they are not provided in school bathrooms, creating educational barriers for students with periods. Bathrooms provide hygiene products for urination and defecation, but when a student gets their period unexpectedly during a school day, they must divert excessive time, energy, and money to prevent bleeding through their clothes. In Massachusetts, both school nurses and shelter workers have reported they do not have enough menstrual supplies for everyone who needs them.

Our evidence is as follows:

There are widespread accounts of students missing class, being forced to buy pads instead of lunch, and facing shame as they walk across campus in bloody clothing. It was found that 69% of menstruating students feel embarrassed bringing period products to the bathroom [6]. Although some institutions provide products in select places like the nurse's office, campus pantry, or health center, students must spend educational time to reach these locations. Products must be provided in bathrooms to be accessible in urgent situations. For comparison, no one expects students to bring their own soap to school or to ask the nurse’s office every time they need toilet paper.

In the U.S., 1 in 5 students miss school due to a lack of access to menstrual products [1]. In Massachusetts, approximately 1 out of 7 children is living in poverty and struggles to pay for menstrual products. According to MassNOW, 56% of nurses in Massachusetts have reported seeing students missing class to obtain menstrual products [5]. Even when menstrual products are provided in the nurse's office, having to ask for them causes shame and embarrassment for some people with periods.

An estimated 11.1% of Massachusetts residents live in poverty, and those who menstruate need period products [3]. With 18,471 people, 3.26% of the population, being homeless it is vital that all homeless shelters provide free period products [7]. Currently, 25% of responding shelters in Massachusetts have said they do not provide menstrual products [5].

In Massachusetts, people with periods in jails and prisons are forced to pay for their own menstrual products which could result in pads and tampons being used as bargaining chips and tools of control [8]. This is unacceptable, especially considering how many of the people in jail or prison were not able to earn enough money before going to jail. A study in 2014, “incarcerated people had a median annual income of $19,185 prior to their incarceration, which is 41% less than non-incarcerated people of similar ages” [4].

The urgent need for free, accessible period products on school campuses is clear. Women, transgender and non-binary people who menstruate face everyday barriers that non-menstruators do not face, including missed class, financial issues, and public shame.

Join #FreeThePeriod and the Massachusetts Menstrual Equity Coalition to call on the state of Massachusetts to provide free menstrual products in public schools grades 6-12 bathrooms, homeless shelters, and prisons by passing the I AM Bill (S.1274/H.1959) to ensure equal access to education and prevent period poverty.

References:

[1] The Always Confidence and Puberty Wave VI Study, Nov. 2017, based on females aged 16-24 years old.
[2] Free the Period campus survey, May 2018 to Sep 2019, based on 449 students
[3] World Population Review, statistics on people below the poverty line in Massachusetts. Retrieved from: https://worldpopulationreview.com/states/poverty-rate-by-state/
[4] Prison Policy, statistics about previous income of incarcerated people. Retrieved from: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/income.html
[5] Mass NOW, statistics from school nurses and shelter workers. Retrieved from: http://www.massnow.org/iam
[6] Period and Thinx study on period poverty in schools.
[7] United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, statistics about homelessness in Massachusetts. Retrieved from: https://www.usich.gov/homelessness-statistics/ma/
[8] Herald News, information about access to period products in prisons and jails. Retrieved from: https://www.heraldnews.com/news/20200305/fall-river-taking-steps-to-end-period-poverty-for-girls-and-women