New York City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Harlem Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (pictured in the right hand corner) and others announce today announced the launch of a groundbreaking initiative to outfit New York City public school restrooms with dispensers of free feminine hygiene products.The unprecedented program marks a major step in Councilwoman Ferreras-Copeland’s work to reduce health risks, increase access to essential feminine care for low-income girls, and promote dignity and respect for girls’ menstruation.
The installation of free dispensers in 25 public middle schools and high schools in Queens and the Bronx builds upon a highly successful pilot Councilwoman Ferreras-Copeland launched in September 2015 at the High School for Arts and Business, a high school in the Queens area she represents. Attendance at the school increased from 90% to 92.4% since the installation of the free dispensers and fewer girls asked to be excused from their classes throughout the day.
Formerly the director of a beacon program in Corona, Queens, the councilwoman noticed girls skipping their after school classes to go home because they were too embarrassed to ask for pads or had already stained their clothes.
“Every young person should have their essential needs met in order to do well in school. Feminine hygiene products are as essential as toilet paper, helping women prevent health risks and fulfill their daily activities uninterrupted by nature. Providing young women with pads and tampons in schools will help them stay focused on their learning and sends a message about value and respect for their bodies. No young woman should face losing class time because she is too embarrassed to ask for, can’t afford or simply cannot access feminine hygiene products. Today, I am proud to be a New Yorker and live in the city that’s leading this effort to bring greater access to essential feminine care products for young women,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.
“Having easy access to feminine care products is essential to ensuring that girls in our schools have the supports they need to focus on learning and feel comfortable during classes. This pilot marks a major step in providing additional resources to students in need,” said DOE Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose.
This avant-garde program, the only government initiative of its kind in the nation, will provide tampons and sanitary napkins for free to 11,600 girls in school districts 9 in the Bronx and 24 in Queens, some of the most impoverished areas of the city. DOE estimates initial costs for the installation and supplies to be approximately $160,000.
In addition to dispensers, DOE will provide menstrual education in health classes and supplemental information on posters, brochures, and/or dedicated assemblies for families.
DOE will also work closely with the principals of participating schools to solicit their feedback and have “trusted teachers” to whom students can speak if they have questions.
Schools in districts 9 and 24, set to have dispensers in the girls bathrooms by the end of the month, include:
This initiative seeks to break that stigma by providing New York City public school restrooms with dispensers of free feminine hygiene products. Our young women should have unobstructed access to quality healthcare, and this first-of-its-kind initiative goes a long way toward this crucial goal. I thank Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland for her leadership and staunch advocacy for women and girls across New York City
“Feminine hygiene products should never be a luxury–they are a basic and essential part of women’s health. Too often, society attaches stigma and shame to menstruation, depriving young girls of resources, access, and knowledge about their bodies and their wellness. This initiative seeks to break that stigma by providing New York City public school restrooms with dispensers of free feminine hygiene products. Our young women should have unobstructed access to quality healthcare, and this first-of-its-kind initiative goes a long way toward this crucial goal. I thank Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland for her leadership and staunch advocacy for women and girls across New York City,” said Harlem Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
“This pilot program is extremely important,” said U.S. Rep. Grace Meng who has spearheaded efforts in Congress to make feminine hygiene products more accessible and affordable to women. “It is a major step forward in making tampons and pads more accessible and I wholeheartedly applaud it. Hopefully, it will lead to free tampon dispensers at all high schools and middle schools throughout New York City.”
“The provision of free feminine hygiene products in public schools is an important service to students who would otherwise not be able to afford them,” said NYC Council Education Committee Chairperson Daniel Dromm. “These free tampon and sanitary napkin dispensers will ensure that girls and young women avoid the discomfort and embarrassing situations that can get in the way of learning. I am proud of this development and will continue to work with Council Member Ferreras-Copeland to make our schools safer and healthier places.”
“The work that Council Member Ferreras-Copeland to make menstrual products readily available and combat period shame is groundbreaking. The country is paying attention to menstrual equity, especially as activists fight the ‘tampon tax.’ It is exciting to see other cities follow New York’s lead, including Chicago, Madison, WI and Columbus, OH. Teens shouldn’t have to miss school or class because they can’t afford tampons or pads. Rather, they should be given every chance to succeed in school. This is one way to help make that happen,” said Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, vice president of development at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice.
“This is one of the most impactful decisions any city government as made historically for young women. By providing a basic necessity to students, it sends the message that female students should not have to suffer embarrassment or discomfort just because of a natural process, and that they should feel that they have the city’s support to be their best selves in school!” said activist and musician Kiran Gandhi who made headlines when she free-bled during her run in the London Marathon last year.
“We support this program whole heartedly,” says Acklema Mohammad, MD, chair of pediatrics at Urban Health Plan, a network of community health centers in the Bronx and Queens. “Urban Health Plan has school-based health centers at some of the schools participating in this pilot project. Having these products readily available in schools is a boost to a young woman’s self-esteem. She won’t have to suffer the embarrassment of not having a feminine hygiene product when she needs one.”
Over the summer, Councilwoman Ferreras-Copeland held two round tables with over 30 advocates and young girls to inform legislation and address the taboo and poor access associated with pads, tampons and other menstrual supplies in New York City. Women from the Women’s Prison Association, Care for the Homeless, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, Foodbank for New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health as well as girls from PowerPlay NYC shared the obstacles they faced during their menstruation and offered recommendations to address the women’s health issue.
Council Member Ferreras-Copeland, together with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, is set to introduce legislation for free feminine hygiene products. In addition, the Council will lobby Albany to join Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Jersey to eliminate sales tax on feminine hygiene products, which are considered a medical device by the FDA. Items like prescription drugs, sunscreen and condoms are exempt from tax in New York State under the premise that they are essential to a person’s health.
“There are so many things that are hard to change in our world. This is not one of them. This we can change now…together!” said Celeste Mergens, Days for Girls founder and CEO, speaking on the need to bring greater access to reusable feminine hygiene products at the 2015 UN Commission on the Status of Women.
“As an organization that helped the Kenyan government pass legislation in 2010 to make sanitary pads accessible in schools, we are thrilled that Council Member Ferreras-Copeland is taking on this issue. Tampons and pads are just as essential as textbooks and pens. We’ve seen it in our work with girls in Kenya. When a girl has greater access to pads she can manage her body with confidence and focus on her education. These measures are essential for women’s and girls’ development worldwide,” said Gina Reiss-Wilchins, CEO, ZanaAfrica Foundation
“The YMCA of Greater New York applauds Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland for her work helping New York City’s young women obtain the resources they need to thrive in school. Providing feminine products in schools will curb preventable absences and help young women on their path to achievement,” said Sharon Levy, Vice President for Public Affairs, YMCA of Greater New York.
“For families struggling to afford food, purchasing feminine hygiene products adds another financial burden. When feminine hygiene products are available in Food Bank For New York City’s network of food pantries and soup kitchens, it comes as a welcome and much-needed relief to the women and girls whose families are already making sacrifices to put food on the table. Food Bank For New York City is pleased to support efforts to ensure greater access to these critical products, and we applaud the leadership of Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland,” said Margarette Purvis, President and CEO, Food Bank For New York City.
Photo credit: Councilwoman Ferreras-Copeland with activist Kiran Gandhi, who free-bled during her run in the 2015 London Marathon; and girls from PowerPlay NYC at a round table held over the summer.