By Bill Parry
New York City is on the verge of becoming the first in the nation to guarantee free access to feminine hygiene products for tens of thousands of women in public schools, homeless shelters and jails.
The City Council voted its approval of three landmark pieces of legislation Tuesday that were introduced by City Councilwoman Julissa Fererras-Copeland (D-East Elmhurst).
“Menstrual hygiene products are as necessary as toilet paper and should be treated as basic bathroom supplies,” Fererras-Copeland said. “They allow women and girls, whether in school or in the boardroom, to participate fully in their daily activities and avoid health risks. Providing menstrual hygiene products privately, immediately and for free is also about sending a body-positive message by not perpetuating shame and humiliation, and acknowledging that women’s bodies, even those of women serving time in prison, deserve some dignity during their periods.”
The law would require the city’s 800 public schools serving grades 6 through 12 to make free tampons and pads available to nearly 300,000 students at a cost of nearly $3.7 million in fiscal 2017 and an additional $1.9 million each future year. Mayor Bill de Blasio has supported the move and is expected to sign the legislation into law.
“Nearly 30 percent of teens in New York City live in poverty,” Councilwomen Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn) and Helen Rosenthal, (D-Manhattan) , co-chairs of the Women’s Caucus of the City Council, said. “The cost of feminine hygiene products can be as high as $100 annually and competes with other basic necessities like toilet paper, food and lodging, particularly for women and families that make daily financial sacrifices to make ends meet.”
Fererras-Copeland’s menstrual equity initiative began with a free dispenser at the girl’s room at Corona’s High School for the Arts and Businesses in September. Attendance jumped 2.4 percent as fewer girls asked to be excused from class throughout the day.
“I believe it should be a basic human right — not to be humiliated by the consequences of not having access to a sanitary pad or tampon,” Free the Tampons Founder Nancy Kramer said. “Virtually every woman has a painful story of a time when she did not have access to these items.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at f or by phone at (718) 260–4538.