By Dierdre Bissonnette and Leslie Wolff, ICSEW Legislative & Policy Co-Chairs
Period poverty is the burden that lack of access to menstrual products can present. Financial burdens or perceived taboos around the topic of menstruation can cause people who are menstruating to go without.
And health advocates say it can have a ripple effect. This lack of products and hygiene can force people with periods to miss out on work, school and other day- to-day activities in addition to being a health concern.
In the United States, federal prisons made menstrual products free to inmates in 2018. A small number of states have passed laws mandating schools provide free hygiene products to students.
Washington state lawmakers have made steps in recent years to help alleviate these issues. First, with the passage of SB 5147 during the 2020 Legislative session, which exempts menstrual products from sales tax. Then during the 2021 Legislative session, the state passed HB 1273, which says:
School districts and private schools must make menstrual hygiene products available at no cost in all gender-neutral bathrooms and bathrooms designated for female students located in schools that serve students in any of grades six through twelve.
This law goes into effect for the 2022-23 school year.
The intent of the law, according to bill sponsors, is to bring menstrual products out of the nurse’s office and into the restroom. No more uncomfortable conversations for students just trying to take care of themselves. If they can make it to the restroom, they know they’ll get the supplies they need. Additionally, this law seeks to ease the burden on low-income students who aren’t able to afford products and may miss out on school activities due to a lack of resources.
Some support for this bill came from two Rochester, Wash. middle school students who formed a group called No Problem, Period. The group raises funds and provides menstrual products in restrooms of Thurston County middle and high schools. It also provides spare underwear and leggings. The students will talk about their organization at the ICSEW’s Nov. 16 meeting.