Menstrual Equity Legislation in California Would Make Tampons and Pads Free at School for Low-Income Girls

California Assembly Bill 10, authored by Assemblymember and Chair of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), would require that all public schools in the state serving lower-income students in grades six through twelve stock restrooms with free menstrual products for students. The legislation cleared the state Senate 39-0 and passed through the Assembly 70-4 early last month, but is still awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.

Eric E. Castro / Creative Commons

Initiatives like AB 10 are a matter of good health and necessary care. The FDA lists menstrual products as medical devices, and women who try to extend the amount of time they use a tampon or pad risk serious health consequences—including bacterial infections, which women and girls are more susceptible to during their periods. “If we truly value women’s health, we’ll remove the stigma associated with a basic health care need and treat this fact-of-life like any other medical necessity,” Garcia, who is also the , said in a statement. “Women and girls do not get to choose when or if they have their period; it’s basic biology.”

Free access to menstrual products also means equal access to education for girls—and governments across the world are beginning to take note. A study in Uganda found girls miss over 10 percent of school days a year on average because they menstruate, and last year, when New York City launched a pilot program that made tampons and pads free in 25 low-income schools, attendance rates for girls increased by 2.4 percent. Starting January 1, schools in Illinois will also begin stocking menstrual products for free. This summer, Kenya’s education act was amended to provide schools with free pads; for the six years prior, the government there has been allocating funds in order to distribute pads to underprivileged girls. In India, The Pad Project, Feminist Majority Foundation and Girls Learn International Oakwood School Chapter are working together to raise funds for the operation of a pad machine in an effort to keep girls in school—no matter what the time of the month.

Yesenia Jimenez, a student who testified in support of the bill in June, told legislators that she and her sisters would skip school when they didn’t have access to menstrual products. “I remember having to use pads for more than 10 hours,” she said, “because I knew we couldn’t afford to buy a new box of pads.” Another girl testified that her father would work in exchange for pads, and that sometimes she used rolled-up newspapers in their stead just so she could attend classes.

After vetoing a bill in 2016 that would have eliminated taxes on tampons and other menstrual products, Gov. Brown now has another opportunity to declare that tampons and pads aren’t a luxury, but a necessity—and do right by girls in the Golden State. The Governor has until Oct. 15 to approve or veto the bill.

“It is simple, menstrual care is health care and menstrual hygiene products are a health necessity,” Feminist Majority Executive Director Kathy Spillar wrote in a letter of support to Brown. “Providing female students with clean and safe hygiene products is no different than ensuring all schools have clean and safe bathrooms and cafeterias, stocked with clean toilet paper and clean utensils.” Feminist Majority is also mobilizing their members in California to push for Brown’s signature.

Her message is echoed by Garcia, who noted in her statement that this is not the end of the fight for menstrual equity in California and across the country. “At the end of the day, these products belong in every bathroom,” Garcia said. “Toilet paper isn’t optional in restrooms, and menstrual products shouldn’t be either.”

Lynn Rosado is an editorial intern at Ms. She studied at California State University, Northridge, where she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism.

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