SB 142 passes unanimously in NH Senate committee
Spaulding High School senior Caroline Dillon is working to make New Hampshire schools a little more female friendly. Dillon helped craft Senate Bill 142, which was recommended to pass unanimously on Feb. 14 within the Senate’s Committee for Education and Workforce Development. It requires feminine hygiene products to be provided in the restrooms of public middle and high schools.
Endorsed by state senator Martha Hennessey ’76 (D-Hanover), the bill sought to alleviate “period poverty,” a term coined to describe the lack of access to feminine hygiene products that causes women around the world to be unable to attend work and school during menstruation.
SB 142 will move on to being deliberated by the House because the bill has no financing provision, said state senator and vice chair of the Committee Jeanne Dietsch (D-Peterborough).
Government professor Deborah Brooks was asked by Hennessey to testify in favor of the bill due to her work with undergraduate students and the Dickey Center’s Young African Leaders Initiative Mandela Scholars. Brooks created a website to consolidate information about menstrual hygiene around the world, which is expected to launch in March 2019.
“The issues are a little different in New Hampshire than they are globally,” Brooks said. “Yet the root of the problem is shared. It resides in poverty and the challenges of managing menstruation for young girls, so I was able to leverage some of my learning from this project to speak to the issues that exist here. I also have a 12-year-old and 14-year-old, so these issues are literally very close to home.”
Political director of ACLU New Hampshire Jeanne Hruska, who also testified in favor of the bill, explained SB 142 has to be categorized as a law concerning both gender equity and economic justice.
“Tampons and pads are really expensive,” Hruska said. “Too often, families can’t afford them when they rightfully prioritize rent, food and health insurance, which forces young students into a really hard situation where they are staying home during that time of the month or going to school [under] unhygienic circumstances.”
She added that other states have already received positive feedback after passing similar legislation.
“There are a number of schools across the country that have implemented this, including pilot projects in New York, and these schools have seen increased attendance rates,” Hruska said. “In a state like New Hampshire, where we have a constitutional right to adequate education, this should absolutely be at the forefront of that right.”
All too often, Hruska said that people wrongly approach access to feminine hygiene products as a privilege and that this mentality exists because of the archaic taboos surrounding menstruation. She hopes that the implementation of this bill will be a step toward normalizing the female body.
“It’s sad that women feel ashamed of their period,” Hruska said. “We even call it ‘that time of the month’ because people don’t like saying ‘period,’ or we say, ‘feminine hygiene products’ because people don’t like to say, ‘pads and tampons,’ so even the lingo associated with it is used to avoid the more humiliating terms.
Both Brooks and Hruska urged people who argue that stocking nurses’ offices with feminine hygiene products is enough should start viewing pads and tampons in the same way they do toilet paper.
Brooks added that drawing this comparison helps men connect more with the issue rather than simply talking about menstruation.
“How would other people feel if they had to go to the nurse’s office to get toilet paper every time they wanted to use the restroom in school?” Hruska said. “People would unanimously agree that [it] would be embarrassing, inconvenient, and would make zero sense.”
Because New Hampshire doesn’t have an income tax and schools are locally funded, Brooks recognizes that the schools where students will make the most use of these free menstrual products tend to be the ones that are underfunded. She said that this program should be supported by the state, but that even if it isn’t, schools will simply have to expand and improve upon an already existing practice of providing menstrual products.
“They are doing it through the school nurse, where the embarrassment factor kicks in,” Brooks added. “The higher income students already have their own product preferences, which will cause them to only draw on the available supplies if they need them for emergency reasons. There will be some increase in supply, but it will probably not be a dramatic difference that kills school budgets.”
For Hruska, advocating for this bill was personally important. At her Wyoming high school, when female students needed feminine hygiene products, Hruska explained that they would have to leave the main building to go to the gym annex.
“The only place we could get free products was from the gym teacher,” she said. “It was kind and generous of her, but it was an awkward situation for students who had to take advantage of it.”
Brooks explained that recently countries with much greater need and poverty issues than New Hampshire have passed legislation to support menstruation needs in schools. She said this comes with greater awareness and acknowledgment of menstruation globally and believes that New Hampshire schools will eventually provide feminine hygiene products in the manner proposed.
“The question New Hampshire has to answer is whether it wants to be a leader or a follower on this issue,” she said. “I think this is a neat opportunity for New Hampshire to be a leader among smaller states.”