PROVIDENCE - Highlighting necessity and the potentially harmful results of a lack of access, the RI General Assembly on Tuesday approved legislation that would require public schools to provide feminine hygiene products to students in grades 5 through 12 at no cost. The bills were sponsored by Senator Valerie J. Lawson (D-Dist. 14, East Providence) and Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett).
“We all know how necessary feminine hygiene products are, but what many people do not realize, and I see this as a long time educator, is that a lack of access to these products can cause students to miss crucial school days,” said Lawson. “These products are a daily necessity to so many students and just as schools provide toilet paper for the bathrooms, these products should also be readily accessible for our students in need.”
According to the bill, at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year, all public schools teaching grades 5 through 12 shall make feminine hygiene products available in the schools. The products will be available in all gender-neutral bathrooms and any female designated bathrooms. The products shall be provided at no cost to the students.
A recent survey from feminine hygiene product brand Always found that 1 in 5 girls miss school due to lack of menstrual products. Further, “period poverty,” or the inability to afford products such as pads, tampons or liners to manage menstrual bleeding, can also lead to health issues when alternatives to these products, such as paper towels and toilet paper, are used, including urinary tract infections, skin irritation and itching.
“The reason this public health crisis is yet to be addressed is largely due to stigma,” said Ashley Rapp and Sidonie Kilpatrick of the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “Stigma associates menstruation with uncleanliness and disgust instead of recognizing it as biologically healthy and normal. The shame associated with periods prevents people from talking about it, which in turn averts dialogues about access to products, the tampon tax, and even the ingredients in our pads and tampons.”
The RI Senate bill proposing the legislation was unanimously approved Tuesday. An identical bill passed the RI House of Representatives on Friday.
“These products are not luxuries,” said Hagan McEntee. “They are necessities for many of our students. If soap and paper towels are made available in bathrooms, so should feminine hygiene products; it’s as simple as that. This bill will prevent the embarrassment suffered by our students who have an accident during the school day and afford them the dignity that they deserve.”
The legislation now heads to the desk of Governor Dan McKee for consideration.