Unlike other normal bodily functions, the menstrual cycle is stigmatized and often a financial burden for many throughout Connecticut.
No one should have to choose between food, a roof over their head, their education, and access to menstrual products; and yet, every day in Connecticut, menstruators are forced to make exactly that choice. Periods do not stop during pandemics and neither have the barriers for many menstruating individuals in our state to menstrual products.
When was the last time you had to pay for toilet paper in a restroom? On most accounts, never. Imagine inserting a quarter into a machine that only gives you a single usage of toilet paper. If you don’t have any coins with you, you’re forced to find some way to deal.
Most menstruators have their period for about two to seven days and for a total of seven years or 2,535 days in their lifetime. The lack of menstrual products isn’t just a barrier at school and work, but it also is a public health issue. When menstruators resort to unhygienic alternatives, they are vulnerable to harmful physical and mental health risks including reproductive issues and depression.
One in four teens have missed class due to lack of menstrual products. One in ten college students lack access to products. And one in four menstruators simply struggle to afford products due to lack of income. Similar to other health and economic inequities, COVID-19 has exacerbated period poverty and disproportionately affects menstruators of color and menstruators with low incomes.
According to the 2020 United Way of CT ALICE report, 38% of Connecticut families struggle to make ends meet, increasing to 57% of Black households and 63% of Hispanic households. Unfortunately due to current federal program rules, any individual or family receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits cannot use these funds on purchasing tampons or pads.
Students at Wilton High School must often seek out the nurse’s office, because the menstrual product coin dispensers in the bathrooms are old and unusable. Since the nurse’s office is tucked away in a small corner of the school, students must first traverse the school to get there and then find a bathroom, which may take up a significant amount of time missed from educational instruction. We know the experiences of students of Wilton High School aren’t alone.
The State of Period from 2021 results indicate that 70% of students say the school environment makes them especially self-conscious of their periods and 38% often or sometimes cannot do their best school work due to lack of access to period products.
Together with other students, organizations, and legislators we are proposing legislation to end period poverty in Connecticut and advance menstrual equity. The legislation raised in the Public Health committee will provide free disposable menstrual products in our public schools, at public universities, and shelters. Connecticut previously enacted legislation requiring free menstrual products for our menstruating prisoners, and we hope to amend this law to provide even greater access and diminish any stigma.
Fourteen other states have passed similar legislation and seven other states including Alabama, Florida, and Massachusetts already have legislation proposed for this year. Funding is essential to implement this policy equitably across our state for no school or shelter to be left behind.
This piece of legislation is crucial to break down the period poverty barrier that perpetuates shame, stigma, and fear surrounding a simple biological function of life. All menstruators in the state of Connecticut deserve better.
Joy Ren, is a student at Wilton High School. Kate Farrar represents West Hartford’s 20th District in the Connecticut House.