I’ve been caught unaware by my period multiple times. Sometimes I am lucky and have a pad or tampon stashed in my backpack. Other times, if my friends weren’t nearby, I’ve used a wad of folded up toilet paper as a provisional 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 pad, then rush back to the bathroom. Now that I’m in college, menstrual products are even more limited to me by both cost and by proximity. However, lack of access to menstrual products has implications far beyond the inconvenience of a longer trip.
While Connecticut has been a strong supporter of reproductive care access, 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 are given a very limited amount of low-quality menstrual products. Increased access to menstrual products is essential to protect the health and dignity of menstruators, especially those who are low-income or currently incarcerated.
In Connecticut, one in every eight women lives below the federal poverty line, meaning that one in eight women struggle to keep up with necessary bills while luxuries are scarce and unexpected expenses cannot be budgeted for. Even though menstrual products are not luxuries, the cost of these products are expensive and highly taxed, rendering them inaccessible for many low-income individuals.
Due to a lack of access to menstrual products, one in five low-income women have missed work or similar commitments, such as school. Furthermore, one in four teens have reported missing school due to the lack of period supplies. However, this isn’t a problem that just affects low-income individuals. 86% of all adult women have unexpectedly started their period in public without the supplies they need, with 80% of these women improvising with toilet paper or other materials.
Additionally, an inmate that served a 6 1/2-year sentence at York Correctional Facility in Connecticut disclosed that each week, she and a cellmate received five menstrual pads to share. In a month, they would have been given 20 pads total, with each cellmate receiving 10 pads for their menstrual cycle, which is absolutely not enough. Assuming a period length of seven days, a person may use from 28 to 36 pads, which is more than double the number of pads the correctional facility provides.
Even worse, when she asked for more menstrual products, she was often rejected and ridiculed for her request. Other incarcerated individuals have been driven to make their own menstrual pads and tampons out of their clothes, the stuffing of their mattresses, or other materials, risking toxic shock syndrome, infection, and even infertility.
A bill that sits before the Connecticut State Senate could begin to remedy these issues of access and stigmatization. House Bill 5272, An Act Concerning Menstrual Products, would require many institutions to provide free menstrual products.
In middle schools 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 designated and accessible central location on each campus.
Furthermore, correctional staff at York Correctional Facility will be required to provide adequate amounts of menstrual products to inmates for free without stigmatizing inmates. To afford these products, educational institutions and York Correctional Facility will be able to accept grants to buy 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 the bathrooms in middle and high schools where at least 40% of the students live in poverty. In 2018, Illinois and New York passed blanket requirements for all middle and high schools. New Hampshire and Virginia followed suit soon after.
Connecticut can be the next state to establish the precedent for menstrual equity. By passing House Bill 5272, menstruating individuals will be able to move through 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 over something they have no control over, or risk their lives over something that can be easily remedied with a menstrual pad or tampon. With this bill, we can begin to protect the health and dignity of some of the most vulnerable communities in Connecticut.
Joyce Liow is a member of the Yale Democrats.