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California

‘Menstrual equity’: L.A. may offer free tampons and pads in public bathrooms

Women and health
A student stocks a school bathroom with free pads and tampons to push for menstrual equity.
(Getty Images)

Los Angeles is considering a plan to provide free tampons and sanitary napkins at public restrooms, joining a national movement pushing for what advocates describe “menstrual equity.”

The motion comes on the heels of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent budget proposal calling for an end to sales taxes on diapers and menstrual products. Other cities are also moving to to make feminine hygiene products available for free at public facilities to those who need them.

The goal, backers say, is to supply tampons and pads “just as public restrooms provide toilet paper and soap for patrons.”

The motion, introduced by Councilman Bob Blumenfield several months ago, notes that California already prohibits public schools from charging students for menstrual products. State law also requires schools with low-income students to provide free feminine hygiene products to girls in grades 6-12.

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Blumenfield wants every public restroom — from local parks to City Hall — to provide menstrual care items.

“It’s inherently wrong that half the population is financially burdened simply because of their gender,” said Jake Flynn, Blumenfield’s communications director. “It would greatly benefit people with financial or logistical restraints [such as] homeless women or young girls, who may not have simple access to convenience stores or pharmacies.”

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, co-founder of Period Equity, which bills itself as the nation’s first law and policy organization fighting for menstrual equity, lauded the move. She said L.A.'s size and influence could encourage other cities to adopt similar policies.

“It’s a great signal going into 2020,” said Weiss-Wolf, the author of “Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity.”

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California isn’t the only state aiming to make the female healthcare items more accessible. In Utah, a menstrual equity initiative in Salt Lake City kicked off a pilot program to provide free tampons and sanitary napkins in some city buildings. Both Nevada and New York have eliminated so-called “tampon taxes.” And on a global scale, Scotland provides all students at schools, colleges and universities with free period products.

Several community council groups, including those in Los Feliz and Arroyo Seco, have come out in favor of Blumenfield’s proposal, noting that “sanitary products are vital for the health, well-being and full participation of women and girls — and transgender and nonbinary people who menstruate — in our society.”

Across the country, advocates of tax-free feminine hygiene products say taxing the items is unconstitutional and want the laws changed in every state. Opponents, however, say eliminating the tax will create a fiscal burden on state budgets.

Chelsea VonChaz founded the L.A.-based nonprofit #HappyPeriod in an effort to provide menstrual hygiene kits to low-income and homeless people. While she supports the proposal, she said its impact can be weighed only after implementation.

“I want to know who’s going to be allowed in those buildings,” VonChaz said, nothing that many city-owned facilities are in downtown Los Angeles, which has a large homeless population. “I want to know if people who don’t fit the mold of acceptable will be allowed to enter or [will be] escorted out by security guards.”

Blumenfield’s motion, which is under committee review, is expected to be approved in early 2020 before it goes on to the full council for a vote.


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