Written and submitted by Linda B. Rosenthal
Manhattan Assembly member Linda B. Rosenthal is a leading advocate on gender and menstrual equity issues in New York. Linda has passed more than 75 laws to improve the lives of all New York State residents, including a ban on the “tampon tax,” which eliminated the tax on menstrual hygiene products statewide. Linda spoke on the TEDMED stage in 2017, and you can watch her talk here.
Since I gave my TEDMED talk in November 2017, the fight for menstrual equity has taken center stage. As of today, 14 states do not tax menstrual hygiene products, and 24 others have introduced legislation to eliminate the tax altogether. The term menstrual equity has entered the common vernacular and become part of our collective consciousness.
I have spoken with period rights advocates from across the country and right here in New York who are fighting to ensure menstrual equity takes its place as a critical component of women’s health and want to model their efforts after our successful push in New York. I spoke at the first-ever PeriodCon, which was an electric gathering of activists who are making menstruation matter in every corner of the world.
And, it’s working. Lawmakers across the country are looking at menstrual health and equity issues for the very first time.
A number of states are now working on legislation, like mine in New York, to provide menstrual hygiene products free in schools and correctional facilities. Federal legislation would ensure that these products qualify for flexible spending accounts, among other things. Medical professionals are finally recognizing that dysmenorrhea is serious and can be debilitating for some, and there are efforts to consider new, more effective treatments for it. And, there is a move to make menstrual hygiene product ingredients available to consumers and to test product safety to better understand the health impacts of long-term use.
New York State included my bill to provide free menstrual products to students in secondary schools statewide in the proposed Executive budget, which means that we are a few short weeks from every student statewide having free universal access to menstrual hygiene products in school. This is a game changer for any young person who has ever felt ashamed because they did not have tampons when they needed one or because they could not afford them.
After my bill passed the New York State Assembly, New York’s correctional facilities voluntarily implemented a program to provide free menstrual hygiene products to people who are incarcerated. Once we pass my legislation into law, the program will remain in place permanently and preserve the health and dignity of menstruating individuals in correctional facilities for generations to come.
From 40,000 feet, it looks like we are on the precipice of a sea change here, and that’s because we are. People have finally begun to recognize that guaranteeing menstrual equity is a distinct and critically important component in the fight to protect women’s health.
Together, so many of us have worked to demystify and destigmatize menstruation, and now, we feel duty-bound to discuss menstruation and related medical and social issues to help make the change and achieve the equality that has for so long eluded us.
Even with our remarkable progress, it is not enough. Let’s be honest: it won’t be enough until tampons are treated like toilet paper.
Since giving my TEDMED talk, I have eagerly devoured every resource I could on this issue. And yet, I keep coming back to one: a 2013 TedX talk given by Nancy Kramer, where she argued that we must ‘Free the Tampon.’ She was right in 2013, and she’s still right today, five years later.
No one walks around with a personal roll of toilet paper for public emergencies or expects to put a quarter into a machine in exchange for a square of toilet paper in a public restroom. Tampons and sanitary napkins are not different than toilet paper. What is different, however, is the way we think about them and therefore, treat them.
Upon reflection, I realize now why it was so important that people heard me say blood and gush on the floor of the New York State Assembly. It’s the same reason it is so important that we each discuss our periods, freely and proudly. Every time someone mentions a period, we help break down the stigmas that have shrouded this natural function of our bodies and our health in mystery for years.
And because incremental change frustrates me, I have introduced legislation, the TAMP (Total Access to Menstrual Products) Act to require that every restroom in the State of New York – from fast food restaurants to colleges, to government facilities and office buildings – make menstrual hygiene products available in the same way they do toilet paper.
It is a matter of simple justice. At the foundation of movement toward menstrual equity is the recognition that menstrual hygiene products are necessities that have been singled out for historically biased treatment as a result of stigma and misunderstanding about the biological functions of half the population. This begins to end today, with the TAMP Act.