By Bill Parry
City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) unveiled the first dispenser of free feminine hygiene products at a public school Tuesday at the High School for Arts and Business in Corona. The pilot program, the only government initiative of its kind in the nation, is the start of Ferreras’ push to make such products available for free in middle schools, high schools and other public buildings across the city, including hospitals, parks and cultural institutions.
“Offering free menstrual care supplies as we do toilet paper and condoms is a matter of avoiding health risks, eliminating the stigma that surrounds a natural part of a women’s life, and for girls in school, not having to skip class because they got their period,” Ferreras said. “Feminine hygiene products allow women and girls to carry out their daily responsibilities uninterrupted and they should be easily accessible.”
Ferreras and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) are set to introduce three pieces of legislation for free feminine hygiene products next month—one for the Department of Education, one for the Department of Correction and one for the Department of Homeless Services.
In addition, the Council will lobby Albany to join five other states and eliminate sales tax on feminine hygiene products, considered a medical device by the FDA. Items like prescription drugs, sunscreen and condoms are exempt from tax in New York state under the premise that they are essential to a person’s health.
“Providing free feminine hygiene products for our young women is an important part of the City Council’s commitment to increase widespread access to quality women’s healthcare,” Mark-Viverito said. “Too often, menstruation and puberty are socially stigmatized and young women are forced to navigate these changes alone, without proper resources and information. By making feminine hygiene products readily available in schools, we can help empower young women to take control of their bodies and their health.”
The High School for Arts and Business is located in the working class area of Corona and currently enrolls nearly 850 students, of whom 56 percent are girls. Ferreras plans to complement the dispenser with an educational component for girls, their male peers and parents in the hopes it will start a conversation to normalize the monthly ritual.
In addition, the experience of the girls will be evaluated toward the end of the year to learn about best practices and possible improvements as the legislation moves forward.
“New York City is a known forerunner in women’s equality and this ground breaking initiative further proves our commitment and respect for women’s bodies,” Ferreras said.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr