Periods are going public whether you like it or not. For far too long, menstruation has been placed under the column of taboo topics of conversation. Remember that middle school sense of confusion and shame that came along with your first period? That one talk in grade school about puberty and it’s never ending consequences, which really didn’t do justice to this lifetime occurrence. Or the embarrassment you’ve felt in the grocery store checkout line while holding pads or tampons? And lord knows we’ve all dropped menstrual products in public after trying to hide them in pockets, sleeves, bras, shoes. Anywhere hidden or out of sight.
That’s why we were so eager to hear about the movement for menstrual equity spearheaded by fellow feminist activist and social justice advocate/attorney, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf. Earlier this week, NWLC was fortunate enough to co-host a book launch event with the Brennan Center for Justice for her new book Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand For Menstrual Equity.
Now—what is menstrual equity? Great question and before this talk, we didn’t quite understand the totality of the concept either. In the wise words of Weiss-Wolf, menstrual equity has come to be broadly defined as: the ability to manage menstruation in the context of full democratic and civic participation. Simply put: in order to have a fully equitable and participatory society, we must have laws and policies that recognize and destigmatize menstruation, like ensuring menstrual products and related hygiene needs are safe and affordable for all who need them. Lacking this access– whether because of poverty, stigma, or lack of education and resources– robs people of economic mobility and the ability to participate in life with basic dignity.
Is this not the most logical argument you’ve ever heard?!
We thought so! Even policymakers are getting on board and recognizing the need for policy solutions that foster menstrual equity. Just last year, the New York City Council passed unanimous legislation that requires free feminine hygiene products for those who need them in public schools, homeless shelters and prisons. Menstrual equity activists also secured a massive victory in Illinois, Connecticut and Florida by eliminating the “tampon tax.” And in mid-2017, Congresswoman Grace Meng of New York introduced H.R. 927 or the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2017 and Senators Warren, Harris, Booker and Durbin co-sponsored the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, a bill that would require free menstrual products for incarcerated women as part of a package proposal to promote basic human rights for women in prison. These two bills have yet to pass, but they both demonstrate a federal commitment to and recognition of menstrual equity.
While there’s been a ton of progress on this issue, we still have a ways to go. As Jennifer Weiss-Wolf said during her book talk, at least half of the population menstruates for a majority of their life, yet it’s still taboo, ignored, and expensive. Menstruation management requires time, money, resources and understanding your body, which are precious commodities. Especially in this moment of attacks on health care and tax plans targeting low-income families. Menstruation is a real and constant presence for millions of people throughout their life– and our policies must reflect it. It’s time politicians acknowledge that our health and economic mobility is their priority.