NPR’s “Why 2015 Was the Year of the Period” called the year’s period positivity an “epic” phenomenon, calculating that the number of times the word menstruation was mentioned in five national news outlets more than tripled from 2010 to 2015.
And that’s not just because it was the year Donald Trump publicly accused Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly of menstruating while moderating. Well before the GOP debates commenced, periods were making headlines—from Kiran Gandhi’s bold free-bleeding, awareness-raising run of the London marathon, to the growing global demand that tampons be free of toxic chemicals, sales tax and shame.
So what next for 2016? How to transform all this newfound momentum into a full-fledged movement? Here are some of the most promising developments in menstrual advocacy and activism that are ripe for progress in the coming year.
Fair and Equitable Menstrual Policy
Legislators are beginning to treat menstruation as a vital public health matter. Last summer, New York City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland pioneered the city’s first-ever menstrual policy agenda. In 2016 she will advance a bill to mandate free tampons and pads in public schools. Other planned reforms include addressing the provision of menstrual products in the city’s correctional facilities and homeless shelters.
Ferreras-Copeland’s efforts inspired action in Madison, Wisconsin, where Dane County supervisor Heidi Wegleitner introduced an amendment to the budget that would require county facilities to dispense tampons and pads for no charge, starting with a pilot project in eight county buildings. At the state level, Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Wisc.) introduced legislation that would do the same in public schools and agencies statewide.
Meanwhile, the No Tax On Tampons campaign catapulted to global recognition last summer when Canada eliminated its national Goods and Services Tax on period products. France’s National Assembly voted in December to reduce its “tampon tax” to 5.5 percent (down from 20); it did so in the face of fierce protest after an unsuccessful attempt to secure a majority vote weeks prior. In the United Kingdom, activists are waging a highly public battle to abolish the tax altogether, following a raucous debate on the floor of Parliament (where one MP refused to even say the word tampon) and a failed vote last October.
Here in the U.S., a petition calling out the 40 states that tax menstrual products has garnered nearly 40,000 signatures. Legislators in New York and California are taking heed. As the 2016 legislative session begins in California, a new bill has just been introduced to eliminate sales tax on feminine hygiene products—happily, with bipartisan sponsorship of Assembly members Cristina Garcia (D) and Ling Ling Chang (R). New York, too, will likely see the introduction of similar legislation this session.
At the federal level, Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) has introduced a bill to amend the tax code classification of tampons, pads and menstrual cups to allow for their inclusion in flexible spending accounts. And Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) continues to champion the Robin Danielson Act, which would require funding and research into the potential hazards posed by the chemicals baked into most commercially produced tampons.
A new generation of entrepreneurs are developing savvy businesses that tout a distinct feminist viewpoint, provide alternative, eco-friendly period products and integrate a do-good model to help meet the menstrual needs of millions, at home and around the world. These include Annie Lascoe and Margo Lang of Conscious. and Jordana Kier and Alex Friedman of LOLA, both companies that manufacture and sell organic tampons; Diandra Kalish of Untabooed, which promotes an array of reusable options, including washable pads and menstrual cups; and Miki Agrawal of THINX, Diana Sierra of BeGirl and Julie Sygiel of Dear Kate, which sell period-proof, super-absorbent underwear.
Women are taking back the Internet—especially when it comes to periods—launching clever and highly effective hashtag, selfie and fundraising initiatives. #TheHomelessPeriod and #JustATampon are quickly-gone-viral campaigns created in the U.K., both designed to end the stigma of periods and raise awareness of the plight of homeless women and what it means to manage menstruation with only the clothes on one’s back.
In India, #HappyToBleed counters a culture rife with taboos—and a call by one temple to employ stricter measures to ensure the exclusion of menstruating women, including full body scanners. #FreeTheTampons makes the case that private businesses and public restrooms should provide tampons and pads as they do toilet paper and soap. And #DetoxTheBox takes on corporate giant Procter & Gamble, pressing the company to disclose the ingredients in the tampons and pads it produces.
Creative, Compassionate Charity
For those who are homeless, managing menstruation is a special challenge. Donation projects that collect and distribute tampons and pads to shelters and food banks fill a critical void, and include groups like Distributing Dignity, The Period Project and Girls Helping Girls. Period.
Two new initiatives will further elevate the issue. RACKET’s Margo Seibert and Caroline Angell are aiming to “make a racket” by exposing and eliminating menstrual taboos and advocating for equal access to hygiene products. In addition to leading large-scale collection drives for the New York Rescue Mission and Covenant House, Seibert and Angell have rallied Broadway’s finest—cast members from blockbusters such as Hamilton, Allegiance, Something’s Rotten!, Book of Mormon and Les Mis—to raise awareness and destigmatize periods. And The Model Behavior is a newly formed collective of fashion models doing good; its inaugural campaign is a collection drive, Box or Bag, through which it will donate boxes of tampons and bags of pads to shelters in four major cities, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Here’s my 2016 resolution for the menstrual revolution: To continue to advocate for sound public policy; write about the issue and raise awareness; and support those who innovate new products, promote dialogue, challenge the status quo and help those in need. If 2015 was The Year The Period Went Public, let’s make 2016 The Year Period Policy Prevailed.
Photos of cast members from Book of Mormon (top) and Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan, who plays Hercules Mulligan/James Madison in Hamilton, courtesy of RACKET.