I have been surprised several times by my period. Sometimes I get lucky and have a towel or tampon hidden in my backpack. Other times, if my friends weren’t nearby, I used a folded wad of toilet paper as a temporary pad before running home to grab a pad or tampon for fear of bleeding through my pants.
In high school, I would run to the nurse’s office, wait to ask for a towel, then rush to the bathroom. Now that I’m in college, menstrual products are even more limited for me by both cost and convenience. However, the lack of access to menstrual products has implications far beyond the inconvenience of a longer trip.
Although Connecticut has been a strong supporter of access to reproductive care, unnecessary barriers to menstrual products still exist. In schools across the state, students do not have access to menstrual products in their bathrooms. In correctional facilities, inmates receive a very limited supply of poor quality menstrual products. Increased access to menstrual products is essential to protect the health and dignity of menstruating women, especially those on low incomes or currently incarcerated.
In Connecticut, one in eight women lives below the federal poverty level, meaning one in eight women struggles to meet necessary bills while luxuries are in short supply and unexpected expenses cannot be budgeted. Even though menstrual products are not luxuries, the cost of these products is expensive and highly taxed, making them inaccessible to many low-income people.
Due to a lack of access to menstrual products, one in five low-income women have missed work or similar commitments, such as school. Additionally, one in four teens reported missing school due to lack of menstrual supplies. However, this is not a problem that only affects low-income people. 86% of all adult women started their period unexpectedly in public without the supplies they need, with 80% of these women improvising with toilet paper or other materials.
Additionally, an inmate who served a 6½-year sentence at York Correctional Institution in Connecticut revealed that each week she and a cellmate were given five sanitary pads to share. In one month, they would have received 20 pads in total, with each cellmate receiving 10 pads for their menstrual cycle, which is absolutely not enough. Assuming a seven-day period, a person can use 28 to 36 pads, more than double the number of pads provided by the correctional facility.
Worse still, when she asked for more menstrual products, she was often rejected and ridiculed for her request. Other inmates have been tricked into making their own menstrual pads and tampons out of their own clothes, mattress padding or other materials, risking toxic shock syndrome, infection and even infertility.
A bill before the Connecticut State Senate could begin to address these issues of access and stigma. House Bill 5272, a Menstrual Products Act, would require many institutions to provide free menstrual products.
In middle and high schools, menstrual products will be available to students in school restrooms, while public colleges will be required to provide free menstrual products in at least one centrally designated and accessible location on each campus.
In addition, correctional staff at York Correctional Institution will be required to provide inmates with sufficient quantities of menstrual products free of charge without stigmatizing them. To afford these products, educational institutions and York Correctional Institution will be able to accept grants to purchase menstrual products, accept donations of menstrual products and partner with community organizations.
Five states have already passed legislation requiring schools to provide menstrual products. In 2017, California passed a law requiring free menstrual products in at least half of middle and high school restrooms where at least 40% of students live in poverty. In 2018, Illinois and New York adopted general requirements for all middle and high schools. New Hampshire and Virginia followed suit soon after.
Connecticut may be the next state to set a precedent in menstrual fairness. By passing Bill 5272, menstruating people will be able to move forward in life without worrying about access to menstrual products or being stigmatized for their period.
No one in Connecticut should ever be ridiculed or humiliated for a natural bodily phenomenon, have to miss school or work for something they have no control over, or risk their life for something that can be easily corrected with a menstrual pad or tampon. With this bill, we can begin to protect the health and dignity of some of Connecticut’s most vulnerable communities.
Joyce Liow is a member of the Yale Democrats.