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Advocates push a Connecticut bill they say would reduce 'period poverty' for low-income women

pads, tampons, menstrual products
Herman Thind

Advocates for women’s reproductive health want Connecticut to provide menstrual products for free in public institutions.

State lawmakers will consider a bill this legislative session that provides menstrual pads and tampons in public schools, prisons, homeless shelters and colleges.

WSHU’s J.D. Allen spoke with Jenny Kohl with The Diaper Bank of Connecticut, which is on a mission to eliminate what she calls “period poverty” in the state.

WSHU: Jenny, why is the diaper bank interested in women’s reproductive health?

JK: So this is a huge piece of what we do. As part of our mission, we really focus on providing basic human needs to families who are low income and financially struggling throughout the state. Actually, in 2020, the diaper bag started its program, which was supplying our families with feminine products, period products — so, the pads, tampons, occasionally menstrual cups.

And since then, we've expanded our partnerships with different organizations who've been providing these to their families throughout the year. And in 2021, we were able to provide about 150,000 of these products. So this is something that's really in our focus area. So it's a very exciting time to be a part of this legislation.

WSHU: How would this bill help educate young women about menstruation and cover the cost of women’s health products?

JK: Absolutely. I mean, this still is a really important step in increasing menstrual equity in our state. Right now, we know that about one in four menstruators have reported that they've had to miss class because they got their period. And that's really unacceptable in Connecticut. Everyone should have access to these products, because of their basic human needs. And as you said, an important piece is education.

Right now, periods are so stigmatized that I think a lot of the times we're afraid to talk about, you know, “I got my period, I have to go to the nurse's office to get these period products” and disclose that this is going on with our bodies. The more that we can talk about it in different arenas such as this, or on a legislative level, the more we're thinking about it, and just the more we can talk about it is huge.

WSHU: You mention equity. During public hearings on this bill, advocates have referred to ending “period poverty.”

JK: So “period poverty,” in our state, we know that about one in eight women don't have access to these products. And we also know that women aren't the only ones who menstruate; it's just a sort of baseline number that we can use.

And when you don't have access to these products, you know, you're substituting unhygienic and unsafe alternatives. So, wadding up toilet paper, notebook paper, things along those lines, which are really unsafe, and can cause a lot of health issues for people. And the mission of this bill is really to ensure that people have access to these products in a space that they need them. So having them in all bathrooms K-12, and public schools.

And certainly, we know that these aren't the only spaces where individuals get their periods, but it's definitely a step in the right direction to ending period poverty. And the more we could talk about this issue, the more it's brought up on people's minds, the closer we are to be able to really address this huge issue.

WSHU: So, providing free tampons and pads encourages good health and hygiene. It encourages young women to not be embarrassed about their period. Are there some other benefits of these products being free outside of schools?

JK: Absolutely. I think just knowing that these products are basic human needs is huge. You don't ask students to pay for their toilet paper when they go to the bathroom. So I think it's huge for mental health reasons that you're not being stigmatized for what's going on with your body.

I also think when they're accessible in all bathrooms, regardless of gender, you're opening up a conversation where everybody can really begin to respect what's going on with their body and realize that it's so natural, and it's something that every single menstruator goes through. You know, it's so universal, but we don't want to talk about it. But again, when we start to talk about it, it becomes normalized.

WSHU: The pushback on a proposal like this is who would pay for free pads and tampons. The state? The public institution? A public-private provider?

So right now we really do support this bill being passed with the funding in order to ensure that it's being equitably implemented across the state. We definitely encourage donations of these products and things along that line. But in order to ensure that the communities with greatest needs have their needs being met, relying on donations is just not sufficient. We really do believe that, you know, students from every district deserve to have access to these basic human needs.

So there hasn't been a fiscal note yet through the bill. But through talking with different advocates and people involved with the bill, our estimate is less than $2 million.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.
Isabel is a former intern with WSHU Public Radio.