Massachusetts schools, jails slowly expand access to menstrual products
Free tampons are popping up in public libraries, schools and jails in Massachusetts as advocates push for equitable menstrual access.
Why it matters: Menstrual products, which are no longer taxed in 30 states, are one of several necessities that low-income residents may struggle to get, advocates say.
What's happening: Several public school districts have started offering free menstrual products in recent years, partly in response to student activism.
- They're available at schools in at least a dozen communities, including Boston, Brookline, Somerville and Medford, per a report from Mass NOW, the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women.
- Boston launched an initiative last year to offer free products and educational programs at six Boston Public Library branches.
- Suffolk and Middlesex county jails say they have policies ensuring access to free menstrual products, says Sasha Goodfriend, executive director of Mass NOW.
Plus: A bill in the State House proposes making free menstrual products available at public schools, shelters and correctional facilities.
What they're saying: "We expect toilet paper and soap in bathrooms, and we don't even ask the question, 'How much does toilet paper cost?' because it's a basic need," Goodfriend said.
- "The same framework should be applied for menstrual products."
Zoom in: A 2019 report said Massachusetts' six correctional facilities for women reported providing free menstrual products, but failed to distribute them weekly, as is done with toilet paper and soap.
- Many incarcerated people bought them from the commissary, sometimes spending $10 for tampons, per the report by Mass NOW and the Massachusetts Menstrual Equity Coalition.
Yes, but: It's not just about free access, but also access to safe products, Goodfriend says.
- The FDA doesn't regulate menstrual products, meaning companies don't have to disclose all of their ingredients.
- After New York passed a law making companies disclose those ingredients, new labels revealed they may contain carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and allergens, PBS reported.
What's next: Advocates are pushing for House lawmakers to approve the menstrual access bill after the Senate unanimously approved it in the fall.
- Rep. Jay Livingstone, who filed the House bill, said the annual cost was estimated years ago at around $6 million.
- Livingstone said he's hopeful the bill can move forward, calling it consistent with Speaker Ron Mariano's values.
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