Has the Time Come for Menstrual Equity?

September 16, 2016 By Amy Seretsky

Amy Seretsky

Building owners and managers may – or should – know about a growing movement in the U.S.  It’s called menstrual equity and while so far it has not targeted owners/managers specifically, as more laws and regulations are implemented, they probably will become involved.

At this time, menstrual equity does not have a clear-cut definition.  This is because some cities, such as New York and Chicago, are focusing on specific elements of the term, while other cities and states are taking a much broader approach.  In a nutshell, here’s what it is all about.  A big part of the movement is just focused on removing any taxes that must be paid to purchase sanitary napkins and related items.

However, looking at menstrual equity more broadly, it includes implementing regulations that feminine hygiene items must be available in all public ladies’ restrooms and that they be available in all educational facilities. Some supporters are even asking that these products be available at little or no charge in all facilities.

Further, advocates for menstrual equity also want greater transparency as to the actual composition of feminine hygiene products.   At this time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require manufacturers to list the ingredients used to make tampons and related products.

The Growth of the Menstrual Equity Movement

The movement actually may date back 40 years.  Writing in Ms Magazine in 1978, feminist Gloria Steinem asked “So what would happen if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not?”

She suggests that men would likely brag about it, telling their buddies how long it lasted and how much.  They would likely even change the name to “men-struation.”  However, this is not the way most women view menstruation. Most would be more than glad to be rid of it for a variety of reasons.

For instance, one women says she started having her period when she was just 11.  She was too embarrassed and afraid to tell her mother about it and even more afraid to tell her teachers or school nurse.  We should mention that in her day, and still today in many schools around the country, girls must go to the nurse’s office to get a tampon.  This causes many to think there is something wrong with them.

So, when she had her period, she would skip school.  In ninth and tenth grades, it happened so often that she was suspended from school. It was because of cases like this that the City of New York recently passed one of the first laws addressing menstrual equity.  The law removes city taxes on these products and requires that sanitary napkins be available free in all public schools, homeless shelters, and correctional facilities.

The thought behind the bill, according to Elle Wisnicki, a Health Center Advocate at Planned Parenthood of New York City, is that making these products accessible “is a matter of dignity and respect for young girls and women.”

While this situation involved a girl in school, most women have been in situations where they need a tampon, do not have one on hand, and are in a building where the vending machine in the ladies’ restroom—if there is one, and it’s not broken—requires exact change, which she does not have.  An August 2013 Harris Interactive Poll of 1,072 women ages 18 to 54 reported the following concerning situations like this:

Nearly 80 percent of the women tried to make a pad out of toilet paper.

Sixty-two percent said they went to a store immediately to purchase tampons, even if at work.

Thirty-four percent said they went home to get feminine supplies.

Fifty-three percent said they asked another woman for supplies.

Further, the study found that only eight percent of those surveyed reported that in their experience, tampon and sanitary napkin dispensers in public restrooms work all the time. 

This is where building owners and managers come into the picture.  Most likely the menstrual equity movement will move from educational facilities to most all types of public facilities such as office buildings.

But why don’t they have these vending machines installed already?  Many owners/managers do not install them because they can be costly and often undependable. Plus, while there is a charge for the products, they often end up costing the facility more to purchase and maintain the machine than the money the machine produces.

Nonetheless, owners/managers should make sure they are ready and prepared for the menstrual equity movement. It starts by ensuring that vending machines – that are working and dependable – are installed in all ladies’ restrooms. To make it easier to accomplish this, and definitely more cost effective, a ssmall group of manufacturers are now offering these machines for free. The belief is that providing tampons in ladies’ restrooms is comparable to making sure paper towels and toilet paper are also stocked.

In closing, we should add another benefit of this movement. According to Wisnicki, “making menstrual products accessible will help normalize conversations about menstruation and women’s health. This will help reduce shame and embarrassment [when women have] their periods.”

Amy Seretsky, Washroom Category Manager at Impact-Products, a leading manufacturer of feminine hygiene, restroom, safety, and floor care products.  She can be reached through her company website at www.impact-products.com

One comment on “Has the Time Come for Menstrual Equity?

  1. But what if a person has female sex but identifies as male gendered and thus is only comfortable using the “men’s” room?

    Shouldn’t we therefor require that so-called “feminine” products be freely available in the “men’s” room? Not doing so would certainly cause some people – people that are already among the most vulnerable and subject to alienation – to feel “less than” or “other”.

    Yet the presence of “feminine products” in the “men’s” room is sure to subject some users of that facility anxiety. In particular, a male sex person who identifies as female gendered and is considering exercising their right to sexual reassignment surgery while still feeling most comfortable in the “men’s” room could feel anxiety and insecurity when presented with these products in that environment.

    So a counselor should certainly be available in each facility to help address the predictable trauma.

    [Anyone who disagrees is -phobic]

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