State Tackles Period Stigma By Mandating School Access to Pads and Tampons

Gov. Andrew Cuomo sits with former Sen. Hillary Clinton at an event last week.//Photo by Philip Kamrass, Office of Gov. Cuomo.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo sits with former Sen. Hillary Clinton at an event last week.//Photo by Philip Kamrass, Office of Gov. Cuomo.

By Victoria Merlino

A new law that took effect at the beginning of the school year mandates that all public schools must stock pads and tampons and provide them free of charge to students in grades six through 12.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law in July as  part of his Women's Opportunity Agenda. The law addresses a problem that many girls face, but few talk about because of stigmas related to menstrual health.

“Many women in New York lack access to menstrual products, and for young women, this inequality can cause distraction and worry that may negatively affect their learning experience,” said U.S. Rep. Grace Meng from Queens.  “By making these essential feminine health products available in schools, we are helping young women become confident, successful adults.”

Menstrual products can be too expensive for many low-income students and families.

In Queens, roughly 92,000 children under the age of 18 live below the poverty line, according to the 2016 American Community Survey. That makes access to some of the products more difficult.

One box of tampons can cost between $6 to $10 at a local pharmacy. But because on factors like an individual’s flow, product quality and the number of tampons in the box, women and girls may be forced to purchase a box every month.

As with tampons, the price of pads also mounts, meaning that women and girls can spend a significant amount before taking into account other related-costs like doctors’ visits, birth control and analgesic medication like Advil and Tylenol.

Until 2016, New York also had a “tampon tax,” the nickname given to a sales tax tacked onto menstrual health products as though they were not necessities in states across the nation.

A state law now bans the tampon tax.

The 2018 study “Who Benefits from Repealing Tampon Taxes? Empirical Evidence from New Jersey” demonstrated that eliminating the tax helped to ease the financial burden of having a period for low-income women, girls and people of diverse gender identities in New Jersey.

Cuomo said the law will chip away at one obstacle facing women and girls across the state.

"New York leads the nation is breaking down barriers to equality, and this legislation is a critical step forward in ensuring every girl in New York has the same opportunities to grow into a confident, successful woman," Cuomo said. "By providing all students with equal access to these products, we are creating a stronger, healthier New York for all."

But for Alyssa Rodriguez, a 17-year-old high school senior in Queens, there is still a long way to go to combat period stigma.   

“[My school administrators] care more about girls following the dress code than our feminine hygiene,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said before the school was mandated to provide period products, students would leave pads or tampons for each other in the bathroom just in case a girl unknowingly got her period.

Before this year, students would have to pay the school nurse for a pad, she said.

“[Periods are] just something that people think girls should automatically be ready for like we’re supposed to have it under control when your period can be so unpredictable,” she said.