Last year, a group of women students at the University of Louisville approached state Rep. Attica Scott, D-Louisville, about an issue they thought should get more attention: the need for free sanitary products on campuses around Kentucky.
Thanks to U of L’s Tampon Task Force, the school now provides free tampons and pads at 26 locations on three campuses.
“The feedback has been amazing,” said Hannah DePriest, president of the student chapter of the American Association of University Women. “People will come to our events just to thank us.”
So Scott decided to sponsor a bill that would require all of Kentucky’s public colleges and universities to provide free sanitary products to students in dorms and classroom buildings.
“We know it’s an issue for women on campuses across Kentucky,” Scott said.
Women need access to those products for emergencies, and the bill could help many who are already financially strained with paying for education, she said.
Kentucky would be following the lead of countries like Scotland, which in August became the first country to provide free sanitary products in all secondary schools and universities, and the New York City Public Schools, which also provides them for students.
Ordinarily, the chances of such a bill passing would be slim. For one thing, Scott is an outspoken, liberal member of the minority party discussing an issue that could make many members of the General Assembly uncomfortable. Last year, 83 percent of the legislature was male.
But Scott said the bill also has support from Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, who recently became a member of Senate leadership. Adams told the Herald-Leader she would file a companion bill to Scott’s in the Senate.
“I think it’s ridiculous and unfortunate that men might be embarrassed by this,” Scott said. “They should think about the women in their families and how helpful this could be. Being embarrassed about issues of public health won’t move our commonwealth forward. I hope it would at least receive a hearing in committee so we can hear about the needs of half our population.”
Scott also has filed legislation to exempt sanitary products from the 6 percent sales tax. Eleven states currently exempt them.
The Tampon Task Force
Several years ago, some U of L students noticed, women who got their period unexpectedly would have to leave campus to find them. At nearby convenience stores, tampons and pads were overpriced.
“The students might have to leave class, and they felt they were being marginalized,” said Valerie Casey, director of the U of L Women’s Center.
They convened the Tampon Task Force, citing the work of non-profits like Free the Tampons, which reported that 86 percent of American women had reported getting their period unexpectedly without access to supplies they needed. As DePriest noted, students can find free condoms many places on campus, but while sex is a choice, menstruation is not.
The task force’s mission statement became: “Accessibility to menstrual hygiene products is not a luxury; rather, it is essential to student success and crucial to serving a diverse campus community.”
The issue of accessibility and “period poverty” has been raised at numerous other campuses; places such as Brown University and the University of Washington have already implemented such policies. University of Kentucky spokesman Jay Blanton said UK provides sanitary products in restrooms located “in administrative and classroom buildings throughout the campus.”
Rory Barron, an organizer with UK’s Reproductive Justice Wildcats, welcomed the proposal.
“Accessibility to menstrual products on campus is oftentimes nonexistent and if there are products available, they’re very thin and terrible in quality and there isn’t variation in size or type of product,” Barron said. “Vaginal health is considered taboo and it’s time we put an end to the hesitation around addressing basic human needs such as this.”
The U of L task force started working with student government and, eventually, the administration, to fund sanitary dispensing machines at 26 locations. The machines, which were installed last year, are about $300 a piece. Meanwhile, the American Association of University Women collects products to provide for free in other locations.
The U of L Women’s Center will be tracking the costs of products over the next year, Casey said.
DePriest hopes the General Assembly will consider and pass Scott’s bill.
“I feel like it should be mandatory everywhere,” DePriest said. “People everywhere menstruate, why wouldn’t they make it easier for them?”