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West Hartford Legislator Proposes Bill to End ‘Period Poverty’

State Rep. Kate Farrar (left) and state Rep. Jillian Gilchrest at a donation of feminine hygiene products at Conard High School in December 2021. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

State Rep. Kate Farrar has proposed legislation that would require menstrual products to be provided free of charge in public school restrooms, at public universities, and in shelters, joining fellow West Hartford legislator state Rep. Jillian Gilchrest in addressing an essential need that is unaffordable to many.

By Ronni Newton

March is Women’s History Month, and Tuesday was International Women’s Day, and while those are occasions to celebrate women, state Rep. Kate Farrar of West Hartford is also drawing attention to an issue that affects many women but isn’t often discussed.

Farrar has proposed legislation to address “period poverty” – inadequate access to menstrual products and education. “No one should have to choose between food, housing, their education, and access to menstrual products, but menstruators across our state, country, and even globally, must make that decision,” she said. House Bill 5272 would take immediate steps to remove cost barriers and stigma, “and raise greater awareness about period poverty’s impact in our communities.”

The proposed bill would require disposable menstrual products to be provided, free of charge, in Connecticut’s public school restrooms, at public universities, and in shelters. It would be an expansion of existing legislation that requires  free menstrual products to be provided to individuals who are incarcerated in Connecticut.

“This bill would help end period poverty by making menstrual products more available,” Kathleen Flaherty, executive director of CT Legal Rights Project, said in written testimony presented at a hearing before the legislature’s Public Health Committee Wednesday, according to a report by CTNewsJunkie.com,

“It is far past time that we recognize that menstrual products are a basic need for people who menstruate – something half the population does each month for about 40 years,” Flaherty said.

The Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents and the state Department of Public Health also expressed support for the bill, although CAPSS Executive Director Fran Rabinowitz said in her testimony that the state would need to provide adequate funding or a means for districts to obtain the products free of charge.

“HB 5272 gives an opportunity to young individuals who menstruate to build their confidence and alleviate the stress that comes with having a period,” Chanel Thorpe, a student at West Hartford’s Conard High School, said in a statement. “High school certainly isn’t easy and having to worry about where you’ll find a pad should not be a monthly struggle. This legislation promotes the fight against the stigma that society has brought upon us and brings together hundreds of individuals with unique stories and backgrounds.”

Bria Gadsden, co-founder and executive director of Love Your Menses, said menstrual products are a primary need, not a supplement. “When you use the bathroom, you expect toilet paper to be free and readily available; the same should apply for menstrual products. Lack of access to menstrual products can have detrimental effects on a person’s health and physical, mental, and social wellbeing. Overtime, these experiences can build throughout a person’s reproductive years and lead to period trauma.”

State Rep. Jillian Gilchrest of West Hartford (D-18th) presented recommendations of the Endometriosis Working Group last month, discussing the need for increasing awareness of the disease and ensuring access to quality care.

Women’s health has historically been under-researched, said Gilchrest, who launched the working group in September 2021 in order to better understand the disease and barriers to care faced by many women. Endometriosis is a full body disease that causes inflammation, pain and in some cases, infertility, and can also result in excessive menstrual bleeding. Endometriosis impacts 1 in 10 women and on average takes 10 years to diagnose.

In December, Gilchrest, along with Farrar, spoke at a press conference with West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor, West Hartford’s Director of Leisure and Social Services Helen Rubino-Turco, Maiya Pierre of The Bridge Family Center, and then Conard High School Principal Julio Duarte, expressing appreciation for the donation of 50,000 tampons from the Endometriosis Foundation of American and PERIOD.

The donation helped bring greater awareness to both period poverty and endometriosis, Gilchrest said, both of which can cause women and girls to miss school or work, creating unnecessary barriers in their lives. The tampons will be provided to students at Conard and Hall high schools, through the West Hartford Food Pantry, and to individuals served by the Bridge.

“Many women struggle to afford period supplies which are a basic necessity,” said Gilchrest at the donation. “I am so happy to see our community receive a donation of 50,000 tampons. Events like these bring much needed, greater awareness to period poverty and endometriosis.”

“Women should have access to menstrual products, but unfortunately the cost of these products makes it so many cannot afford them. We are so grateful for this generous donation that will benefit women across our community,” Cantor said.

According to Farrar, in the United States, 1 in 4 residents who menstruate cannot afford menstrual products. According to the report, “State of the Period 2021“, 70 percent of students say their academic environment makes them self-conscious of their periods, and 38 percent struggle to do their best school work because they cannot access sanitary products.

West Hartford state Rep. Tammy Exum (D-19th) is also one of the sponsors of HB 5272.

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