New Enthusiasm for 'Menstrual Equity,’ at College and in Congress

By Susan Jones | February 21, 2017 | 9:44 AM EST

A view of Harvard Yard at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Mass. (Lisa Poole/AP File Photo)

( - As if the world doesn't have enough problems, "menstrual equity" is now a rising concern, at college and even in Congress.

To overcome the "stigma" attached to menstruation, Harvard University's Undergraduate Council recently passed legislation allocating $1,000 to make tampons and other feminine hygiene products "more available" in freshman dorms, the Harvard Crimson reported on Tuesday.

The male student behind the one-month pilot project, Arnav Agrawal ’20, told the Crimson the new tampon dispensers won't be located in bathrooms: "We’re just going to provide them next to the condom dispensers that are formally in place in common rooms. So it has no relations with public bathrooms or in-suite bathrooms, it’s just going to be places where more people can access it.”

According to the Crimson, the Undergraduate Council president "asked if there were measures in place to control whether or not the products would be distributed equally among students. Agrawal said he plans on monitoring the tampon supply in order to prohibit students from taking too many."

The concern about menstruation is not confined to college campuses.

On Feb. 13, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) introduced the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2017 (H.R. 972), which includes five provisions to help different populations of women and girls better access menstrual hygiene items.

"Menstrual hygiene products are not ubiquitous and cheap, despite what popular culture would have us believe,” Meng said in a news release announcing her bill.

“Although most women use these products, many struggle to afford or access these essential items. This is unacceptable. Menstrual hygiene products are a necessity for most women, yet they are treated as luxury items. It is definitely not a luxury to menstruate, and my legislation acknowledges this reality by making it easier for women and girls to access the products that their anatomy requires.”

Meng’s legislation would:

-- Allow individuals to buy tampons and pads with pre-tax dollars they contribute to their flexible spending accounts.

-- Provide a refundable tax credit to low-income individuals who regularly use menstrual hygiene products.

-- Allow grant funds from the Emergency Food and Shelter Grant Program, which can be used by homeless assistance providers for essential household items, to be used for menstrual hygiene products.

-- Require each state to provide menstrual hygiene products to female inmates and detainees, at no cost and on demand, as a condition of receiving funds from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program.

-- Direct the Secretary of Labor to require employers with 100 or more employees to provide menstrual hygiene products to their employees free of charge.

According to research presented by Meng, the average woman will use 12,000 tampons in her lifetime. An average box of 36 tampons costs $7, so a woman will spend almost $2,500 over the course of her life on tampons alone. This does not include the cost of related products.

The Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2017 has been referred to the House Committees on Ways and Means, Financial Services, Judiciary, and Education and the Workforce.