NEW YORK — Girls at a public school in Queens are now able to get free tampons and pads from a dispenser in a restroom, the first initiative of its kind in the city and the result of months of effort by advocates pushing to improve access to feminine hygiene products.
The initiative is led by New York City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who is drafting legislation to distribute free products at all public schools, public buildings, homeless shelters and prisons.
The pilot program at the High School for Arts and Business in Corona, Queens, will dispense free tampons and pads for the entire school year. HOSPECO, a vendor of feminine hygiene products, is donating the machine.
Ferreras said she wants to help remove the stigma surrounding menstruation, and help girls whose families struggle to afford expensive menstrual products. One box of pads from a drugstore can cost up to $20.
Because the tampons and pads are available in a bathroom dispenser, girls do not need to ask a nurse to get them, ask for money from their mothers or bring their purses into the bathroom — a ritual signaling to their peers they’re on their period, which is often experienced as shameful, Ferraras said. She also hopes that offering free supplies will keep girls from skipping class when they get their periods. “We should be eliminating all worries and obstacles from young girls who are going to public school in New York City,” Ferraras added.
Experts say that a persistent stigma surrounding menstruation is due, in part, to a lack of information. Ferraras said she also hopes to work with the city’s education department to include more education about menstruation in public schools. “We can’t talk about girls’ anatomy without first talking about a young woman’s cycle,” Ferreras said. “That’s really something that’s glossed over. We need to spend more time on the topic.”
Meanwhile, the city council is waiting on responses from the Department of Homeless Services and the Department of Correction, which were queried by Ferreras about their policies on access to feminine hygiene products for women in their custody.
Under current policies, each housing block of up to 50 inmates receives one box of 144 generic sanitary napkins per week, according to Commissioner Joseph Ponte. He said he had not heard any complaints about access to those items, but Ferreras said she would follow up with additional questions on the subject, following harrowing reports from women who said they had to resort to toilet paper or re-use pads when on their period. Ferraras said she hopes to have legislation on this issue ready by the end of the year.
The school pilot program is the result of a growing awareness among advocates and donors working to make feminine hygiene products more accessible to girls and women in the city.