Organization Fights To Make Pads And Tampons Free In Public Restrooms

by Julie Scagell
Image via Getty Images/ Masanyanka

Menstrual products, like toilet paper, are a necessity, not a luxury

If you’ve ever been caught without a pad or tampon in public when you have your period, you know how frustrating it can be to figure out. Even though things like toilet paper and soap are available in public restrooms at no cost, menstrual products are not.

One organization set out to change this narrative, fighting to make feminine hygiene products freely available, and their work is making a real difference.

“The consequences of not having access to [menstrual] products are pretty humiliating, and really a loss of dignity,” Free The Tampons founder Nancy Kramer tells Here & Now. “I mean you can, as we like to say, ‘MacGyver’ your own solution with a bunch of toilet paper, but that’s certainly not ideal. Women run the risk of having blood-stained clothing in an environment where that’s just disrespectful and humiliating.”

Some would argue that women should simply be more prepared, carrying these products with them at all times in the event they do get their periods. But Kramer is quick to point out one fatal flaw in this argument. “We don’t expect people to walk around with rolls of toilet paper on them,” she said. “I don’t think we should expect people to walk around with tampons and pads on them.”

It seems some legislators agree. New York City was the first to pass a legislative package ensuring access to menstrual products in public schools, shelters and corrections facilities. They are the third state (behind California and Illinois) to require schools to provide free products but went a step further to support women in shelters and corrections facilities, targeting their states most vulnerable populations. Governor Andrew Cuomo cited that “Menstrual products are as necessary as toilet paper and soap, but can be one expense too many for struggling families.”

And while this is a major step forward, other cities and states need to follow suit. “I think that as we are having more awareness around this issue, we’re seeing these states saying, ‘This isn’t OK in schools,’ and I think next we’ll see it more in the restrooms,” Kramer noted.

As legislation catches up to women’s issues, we’ve seen more and more states seek to remove the “tampon tax,” which includes menstrual products as a category subject to sales tax of anywhere between 4 and 10 percent. For many families where every penny counts, this adds up. And given feminine hygiene products are a necessity, it’s frustrating it’s taken this long.

For Kramer, her motivation to make this a lifelong effort started in 1982 when she saw free menstrual products offered at Apple’s corporate headquarters. “I just thought this seemed like it made all the sense in the world, and I immediately instituted the policy in my own business, and I’ve been advocating for businesses and schools to follow suit ever since,” she said.

What it comes down to for Kramer and others fighting to enact legislation is a lack of knowledge on the issue. “I think it’s a lack of awareness,” she said. “I also think that historically, men made the decisions for those types of items, and in defense of men, there’s nothing that their body does that’s exactly like a period. So it’s very difficult for a man to relate to. There’s just nothing that’s the equivalent.”

As more and more women are appointed to publicly held positions and lend their voices on such issues, that’s when the real change will happen. As Kramer so eloquently said, “I think that if men got periods, frankly I don’t think we’d be even having this discussion.”