Dignity Matters featured in MetroWest Daily News article on period poverty

Dignity Matters provides free menstrual care and undergarments to women and girls in need, and we have long recognized that the scale of period poverty means legislative action will be required to end this crisis.

Founder and Executive Director Kate Sanetra-Butler testified on behalf of the I AM Bill (which would require free menstrual care in public secondary schools, homeless shelters, and prisons in Massachusetts) when it was introduced in 2019, and we have continued to champion it in the 4 years since.

The MetroWest Daily News published an article about the I AM Bill and Dignity Matters’ efforts to fight local period poverty on October 12. The article is available here; we have included an excerpt below for supporters that do not have access to the MetroWest Daily News.

Is this the year the ‘I AM’ bill, which promotes free menstrual products, gets passed?

Ashley Soebroto, Boston University Statehouse Program

Published 5:34 am on October 12, 2023

BOSTON — Dozens of activists wearing red shirts and pants crowded the State House steps last week, rallying to end period poverty — the struggle for those who menstruate to afford period products such as tampons and pads.

Advocates and legislators are pushing for the so-called “I AM” bill, which would provide free menstrual products at public schools, homeless shelters and incarceration facilities. The bill, which was first filed in 2019, has yet to be passed.

“It’s unacceptable in 2023 that access to menstrual products is not widely spread,” said state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, during the Oct. 4 rally. “If men bled, these products would be ubiquitous.”

Wicked Local File Photo/Ann Ringwood

The bill passed the Senate last spring. But since then, movement in passing period poverty legislation has stalled.

“It was great news and we thought … the momentum is here,” said Meryl Glassman, development director at Framingham nonprofit Dignity Matters, which provides free menstrual care throughout the state, in an interview. “And almost 18 months later, we’re still waiting for it to even get a vote in the House and make its way through committee.”

Advocates are hopeful period poverty bill has momentum

However, with a growing awareness of period poverty on Beacon Hill — such as a separate bill proposing free menstrual products in state-owned buildings — advocates and legislators are hopeful the measure will pass this legislative session.

“There’s so many people who use unhygienic substitutes because they can’t afford menstrual products,” said Sasha Goodfriend, executive director for the  Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women, in an interview. “This is really a preventative cost-effectiveness measure, and it’s about human dignity.”

Goodfriend said menstrual products are as essential as food, and a lack of access to them can create negative repercussions, especially for students and low-income menstruators.

Poor must sometimes choose between food and period products

Glassman, whose Framingham organization serves 15,000 people monthly, said those who live in poverty are often forced to choose between purchasing food and period products. In most cases, they’re more likely to pick food for themselves and their family.

Talking about menstruation can also be a stigmatized topic for some, according to Glassman, making it difficult for many to ask for help in obtaining period products.

“A lot of the women that we serve … are in really difficult economic situations,” she said. “They may have been victims of domestic abuse and violence, they may not have sustainable housing … and I think for many of them, the confidence to ask for these products is not there.”

She added that menstrual product prices have gone up in recent years, and there are no federal or state programs to assist in accessing period care.

“These products are really, really expensive, and people rarely donate them,” Glassman said. “You cannot purchase these products with SNAP, which is food stamps … you also can’t purchase these products with WIC, which is Women, Infants and Children (Nutrition Program).”

According to the Journal of Global Health Reports, 16.9 million women who menstruate live in poverty, and two-thirds of them could not afford menstrual products in 2021.

Mass. does not require menstrual products in public schools

While Massachusetts is one of several states to eliminate taxes on period products, it remains one of many states that neither provides nor requires the products for public school students.

A lack of access to menstrual products can affect students’ attendance and performance. According to a 2021 study from advocacy group PERIOD, 84% of students have missed class time or know someone who has because of a lack of access to menstrual products.

“If you don’t advance (to the next grade), you can’t graduate, and if you don’t graduate, then your options for your life and for your family’s economic situation are really, really limited,” Glassman said. “So this is something that keeps people in the cycle of poverty from a very young age.”