Welcome to Ban Week, in which Splinter writers build a case for burning it all down.
The very first time I saw free tampons in a public restroom was in September of this year. I had to do a double take. I was so surprised that they were not in a metal dispenser being sold for 25 cents (or more!). No, these were neatly placed in a round container on the counter, easily accessible—offered up like little peppermint candies.
After overcoming my initial shock, I was flooded with relief: Knowing that it would be OK if I forgot to bring a tampon with me before leaving home—on top of everything else I have to remember—brought me a sense of calm.
Free feminine hygiene products in public restrooms—hotels, schools, the workplace, restaurants, movie theaters, basically anywhere that isn’t a home—is a concept that should have happened a long time ago. Menstruation is a natural part of being a human! I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, since women still don’t get equal pay, but that’s a topic for another day.
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A national study commissioned by Free The Tampons showed that 86% of women ages 18–54 have unexpectedly started their period while in a public place and were without the necessary supplies. Women are forced to do some “Macgyvering”—making a makeshift pad or tampon out of toilet paper or other material. Some women ask other women for supplies, or attempt to find a working dispenser, or just go home. It’s a panicky, stressful situation that happens on a daily basis.
Organizations such as Period Equity have made it their mission to explain why periods are not a luxury; and therefore why tampons and other feminine hygiene products should be free and accessible in public places. The organization helped to lead the menstrual equity laws in New York City, eliminating the tax on tampons. The founders believe their mission boils down to the basics of what people who menstruate need—and should expect—from a public bathroom.
“A man can walk into a restroom anywhere and can feel pretty sure that toilet paper will be there, so women should go into a bathroom and feel sure that they’ll get what they need,” says Laura Strausfeld, Co-Founder of Period Equity. “There was a time when you had to bring your own toilet paper, and you still do in many parts of the world. But in this country… it was legislated that all public restrooms have toilet paper. So we can make [free feminine hygiene products] happen here too.”
Girls Helping Girls Period is an organization that collects products for women in need. Executive director Elise Joy calls it a societal issue: “I don’t actually feel like women should be helping other women. I think that everybody should be helping women and girls… It’s not a woman’s issue.”
Paige Rosson said it best in her TED Talk: We didn’t choose to have a period. If I had a choice, I would choose to get rid of periods altogether. The next best thing would be to have free sanitary products in bathrooms, JUST LIKE TOILET PAPER.