In an effort to preserve what the city calls one of the basic tenets of human necessity, the city council in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has voted to require all public bathrooms within the city to provide a free supply of menstrual products to anyone who needs them. It’s the first-ever move by a major city in U.S. history.
CNN’s Alex Harring and Mirna Alsharif reported that “the city council unanimously voted to pass an ordinance requiring all public restrooms in the 120,000-resident college community — including those located inside businesses — to offer pads and tampons for free, as well as toilet paper and soap.”
According to Harring and Alsharif, “violations of the ordinance, which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2022, will result in a $100 fine.”
Ahead of the vote to pass the legislation, Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said his proposal “is a necessity and a long time coming.”
“Access to these items is a matter of personal dignity,” he added. “[It’s] a human necessity and a healthcare right.”
He also explained that the idea for the city ordinance came from a meeting he had with a high school student who was alarmed at the thought of homeless people not having access to menstrual products.
It’s a problem that many women and minorities, in particular, are forced to deal with. In 2019, researchers in St. Louis, Missouri, reported that nearly two-thirds of low-income women they interviewed revealed they had issues affording menstrual products at least once per year, on average.
The significance of the Ann Arbor legislation was not lost on women’s health advocates.
In an interview with Harring and Alsharif, Michela Bedard, executive director of PERIOD, a nonprofit group that hopes to end the stigma and high costs of menstruation, said, “it’s entirely possible that there is a very small town out there that has made this decision, and they did it without any fanfare or meeting or help with advocacy. But certainly, this is the first major municipality that’s made waves like this.”
“It really provides any person who’s been menstruating a peace of mind that they currently don’t have,” added Nancy Kramer, founder of restroom equality group Free The Tampon. “It just helps us to not have a level of potential embarrassment or humiliation.”
Kramer told CNN that she hopes Ann Arbor’s new policy will help women in the city to live freer, more uninhibited lives.
Access to free or affordable menstrual products is a growing area of concern for many. State legislatures in California, New Hampshire and West Virginia have already voted to require free menstrual products in school restrooms. In 2016, New York City moved to require free tampons and pads in schools, homeless shelters and prisons.
“Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, is believed to be the first U.S. municipality to put menstrual products in all bathrooms in government-owned buildings in 2019, according to advocacy organization the Massachusetts Municipal Association,” Harring and Alsharif reported.
“We hope that this trickles up, and one day in our lifetimes, we are going to realize that these products need to be everywhere,” Bedard said. “[They] need to be accessible. This is a crisis that has been completely overlooked in our country — and it’s nearing its expiration.”