by Susan Olsen*
The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation during this past session requiring public schools to provide menstrual hygiene products via dispensers in school restrooms at no cost to students. See HB 205 and SB 427. Now Govern Hogan has 30 days to sign or let the law go into effect without his signature. This new law will be a giant step in terms of combating “period poverty,” the inability to access menstrual hygiene products (Maryland Legislative Agenda for Women or MLAW).
By providing free menstrual hygiene products to students, it is expected that school attendance and extracurricular participation will increase. A survey titled the State of the Period commissioned by the Thinx company and grassroots group PERIOD found that one in five teens have struggled to afford menstrual hygiene products or were not able to obtain them at all. Eighty-four percent of teens surveyed have either missed class time themselves or know someone who missed time because of not having access to period products.
The menstrual equity policy would provide free period products administered through bathroom dispensers in elementary, middle, and high schools by October 1, 2022. Initially only one elementary school restroom and two in each middle and high school will be required to provide the menstrual hygiene products; however, the dispensers containing the products must be installed in every female-designated restroom by September 1, 2025. Furthermore, it will be mandated that $500,000 will be set aside in the 2023 state budget to reimburse schools for installing the dispensers.
A number of organizations as well as individual teachers testified in favor of the bill. The organizations include but are not limited to ACLU of Maryland, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, American Association of University Women of Maryland, Maryland State Education Association, Maryland School Psychologists’ Association, Planned Parenthood of Maryland, Maryland Legislative Agenda for Women, and Marylanders Against Poverty.
The American Association of University Women of Maryland pointed out that this policy would comply with Title IX. NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland stated that “to provide all students with a positive and meaningful education, we must acknowledge that when socioeconomic disparities are coupled with menstrual inequity, gaps in education attainment widen further.” The ACLU of Maryland stated, “Menstrual products in school bathrooms should be regulated no differently than toilet paper, for instance, and the lack of reliable access to such a vital health need is gender discriminatory.”
This is a victory for affected public school students and to a more equitable Maryland for all. Thanks to all who brought these bills over the finish line: Delegate Reznik, Delegate Kaiser, Senator Kagan, Senator Elfreth, Senator Washington, Senator Frye Hester, and all other legislators, advocates and allied organizations.
*Susan Olsen is Our Maryland’s Mike Pretl Fellow and an environmental and progressive activist on the Eastern Shore.