N.H. passes law requiring public schools to provide free pads, tampons in bathrooms 

  • LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staffCaroline Dillon, 17, of Rochester testifies on Tuesday in favor of SB 142, a bill that would require public high schools and middle schools to provide free feminine hygiene products in bathrooms.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff » Buy this Imag LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 7/17/2019 9:42:34 AM

Caroline Dillon could tell she was making people feel uncomfortable. 

The 18-year-old knew it when she saw lawmakers, most of them men, wouldn’t use words like “menstruation,” “tampon” or “feminine hygiene products” when having conversations with her about those very issues. 

“They would say ‘the thing’ or just try to avoid saying it all together,” said Dillon, who was pioneering legislation to require schools to provide tampons and pads in public school bathrooms.

But those difficult conversations ended up being worth it, she said. Senate Bill 142 was signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu Wednesday morning. 

Starting next year, school districts will be responsible for providing feminine hygiene products in women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms in high schools and middle schools. 

“This legislation is about equality and dignity,” Sununu said Wednesday. “SB 142 will help ensure young women in New Hampshire public schools will have the freedom to learn without disruption – and free of shame, or fear of stigma.”

The idea for SB 142 started after the Rochester teen did a project in a U.S. history class at Spaulding High School about women’s inequality and learned about “period poverty,” where those who can’t afford feminine hygiene products often miss work or school during menstruation.

“It was sad to think about,” Dillon said. “Girls in middle and high school would never dream of telling somebody that they have to miss school or use socks because they can’t pay for pads.”

She approached Sen. Martha Hennessey about requiring schools to provide feminine hygiene products in schools. Hennessey decided to sponsor a bill. 

If someone doesn’t have access to products, it can make a huge impact on her life, Hennessey said during a hearing with the Senate’s Education and Workforce Development Committee in February. She said the average woman menstruates 2,535 days during her lifetime, equivalent to seven years.

“That’s seven years of worrying, for some, about having appropriate personal hygiene products and being able to afford them, not to mention pain and discomfort,” Hennessey said. 

Dillon said promoting the bill took some educating lawmakers. But once they got past the initial awkwardness of conversations, Dillon said she was able to reach a level of mutual understanding with most people. 

“I would say to them, ‘If this makes you uncomfortable, think about how uncomfortable it is to be in this situation yourself,’ ” she said, of not having access to feminine hygiene products. “ ‘If you can't really picture it yourself, think about any woman in your life: your mom, your daughter, your aunt – think about how uncomfortable she feels – you are in the position to make it so these women don’t have to feel that way.’ ” 

Dillon said she had a good conversation with Sununu about the bill after it passed the house and senate. 

“He was very enthusiastic about it – he compared it to the food poverty issues that we are facing in schools,” she said. “He thought this was similar to that in terms of helping out the kids who really need it."

Dillon said she learned a lot about the impact students can make in state government. She is not the only New Hampshire teen to influence legislative change in the last few years: Cassandra Levesque of Barrington made waves when she pioneered legislation to raise the state’s minimum marriage age from 13 for girls and 14 to boys to 16, the age of consent. Levesque was elected to the state House of Representatives this past November. 

“I think the thing that stuck out to me the most is that you can make an impact and actually do something without being 18, without running for office,” Dillon said. “You can make your voice heard and you can participate in the process.” 

Dillon plans to attend the University of Pennsylvania for nursing next year. 

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