Bill would require N.H. schools to provide free feminine hygiene products in bathrooms 

  • Caroline Dillion, 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

  • Caroline Dillion, 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

  • Alex Kann, a seventh grader from Rochester, testifies in front of the state Education and Workforce Development committee about a bill that would require schools to provide free feminine hygiene products in bathrooms.  LEAH WILLINGHAM / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 2/5/2019 11:51:49 AM

Some students’ parents can afford to buy them tampons and pads to bring to school.

Others have to either miss school because of their monthly periods or leave class to go to the nurse’s office and wait in line – sometimes in front of classmates – to get access to feminine hygiene products.

“It’s very difficult to go to the nurse multiple times every single day for a week every month,” said Rochester 17-year-old Caroline Dillon, testifying in front of the Senate’s Education and Workforce Development committee Tuesday.

Dillon worked with state Sen. Martha Hennessey to draft a bill, Senate Bill 142, which would require public middle and high schools to provide free feminine hygiene products in bathrooms. It was recommended unanimously by the committee Tuesday to move on to vote by the full Senate.

Dillon said she was inspired to approach Hennessey after she did a project in U.S. history class about women’s inequality and learned about “period poverty,” where people are forced to miss work or school because they can’t afford feminine hygiene products.

“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.”

If someone doesn’t have access to products, it can make a huge impact on her life, Hennessey said. She said the average woman has 2,535 days of menstruating 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,” she said.

Hennessey said other states, such as New York and California, have passed similar legislation. If the bill passes in New Hampshire, these products would be paid for by individual school districts, she said.

It’s a system that’s worked in Rochester, Dillon said, where she worked with the school board and Citron Hygiene, the company that purchases the district’s hand sanitizer and soap, to buy dispenser machines and hygiene products to put in the bathrooms at a discounted rate.

But some worried the idea would not translate as well into other districts.

Mary Kusturin of Hopkinton said the legislation could place a burden on school districts that are already strapped for funds.

“The school budget is a constant issue. It creates a lot of division in our town,” she said to the committee. “Please don’t give us one more thing that we are required to do when we are already struggling to find the funding for educational products. Please don’t tell us that there’s one more thing that the elderly folks in our town have to pay for.”

Kusturin said she graduated high school less than 10 years ago, and went to the school nurse often for pads. It’s a system that worked well for her, she said.

“I was showing up every day for a week, multiple times a day. For me, it was not that big of an inconvenience,” she said. “It was not that big of an issue. At the end of the day, that’s where I had to go to get them, so that’s where I went.”

ACLU New Hampshire Political Director Jeanne Hruska said students worrying about their periods or going to the nurse a few times a day for feminine hygiene products takes away from instructional time. Hruska said that time infringes on students’ rights to an adequate education.

“We don’t want kids sitting in the classroom, terrified of standing up because they have one pad, and they’ve got to get through an eight-hour school day, and god forbid they stand up and have a stain,” Hruska said. “It’s about human dignity, and making sure that student is focused on their classwork, or focused on what their teacher is trying to teach them and not focused on where their next pad is going to come from.”

Alex Kann, a seventh-grader from Rochester, said she doesn’t have time to run to the nurse’s office during her one-minute break between classes. She described for the committee one day when she had to go to the nurse for a pad and it was embarrassing for her.

“(The nurse) was very busy, she had two people in front of me, they both took up five minutes and when it was my turn, there was a boy in there,” she said. “When she’s busy, my leak might be getting worse.”

Dartmouth College professor Deborah Brooks said the fact that schools don’t already provide feminine hygiene products is a reflection of the taboo and discomfort that still exists around menstruation.

“We don’t ask children in schools or their teachers to pay for toilet paper every time they go to the bathroom or to remember to bring their own,” she said. “And yet for menstruation, we expect girls not to just be able to pay for it – which is a challenge for many – but also to remember and to remember at a point in their lives when menstruation is unpredictable.”

Brooks says she sees that taboo lifting, and that this bill is representative of people being willing to talk about menstruation more.

“This genie is not going back in the bottle. People are no longer treating menstruation as something that’s shameful and private and a women’s problem,” she said. “That’s not happening anymore. This is going to stay in the public forefront.”

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