First Free Tampon Machine Comes to New York City School

Toilet paper is free and condoms often are, too. But tampons? Never. One women is making small steps to change that. (Photo: Getty Images)

New York City Council Woman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland took a big step yesterday in her work to #FreeTheTampon for New York City students, unveiling the first dispenser of free feminine hygiene products at the High School for Arts and Business in Queens on Tuesday.

The dispenser will be stocked with free Maxithins sanitary napkins and Tampax tampons for the entire school year.

Ferreras-Copeland at the unveiling of the free feminine hygiene dispenser in the girls room at the High School for Arts and Business in Queens. (Photo: Courtesy of Julissa Ferreras-Copeland)

Earlier this summer, Ferreras-Copeland told Yahoo Health about her motivation to bring free tampons to New York City schools this past June: “I was the director of an after-school program in Queens, New York, and I came to learn that young girls would skip out and go home because they were on their periods. Sometimes it was due to the discomfort, but other times they’d run out of pads and were too embarrassed to ask a teacher or nurse. They preferred to lose learning time in order to save face.”

She notes, though, that the problem is just as much about physical health as it is about mental health and self-esteem, since improper hygiene during menstruation can lead to vaginal infection and toxic shock system. And furthermore, “It’s important to de-stigmatize feminine hygiene products, which help us carry out our daily functions without interruption and avoid those risks. It’s also a matter of giving young girls dignity throughout the process — they shouldn’t feel ashamed of being women.”

Next up in the fight for bathroom equality?

Ferreras-Copeland plans to lobby state officials to eliminate sales tax on feminine hygiene products, which are considered a medical device by the FDA. Prescription drugs, sunscreen and condoms are already tax exempt in New York State because of they are essential health items.

At a roundtable Ferreras-Copeland held this summer to engage young women over the taboos around menstruation and the cost of feminine hygiene products, Kiran Gandhi —who recently ran the London marathon while on her period without using of any feminine hygiene products — told participants, “The reason why being able to talk about your own body matters is that then you can actually innovate solutions around problems of stigma.”

Related: Bathroom Inequality: TP Is Free But Tampons Aren’t

Of Ferreras-Copeland’s work, Gandhi, drummer for the musician M.I.A. and a Harvard business school graduate, added, “The councilwoman made the group feel comfortable so that she could get to the heart of the problem and consider the best solutions for public school girls.”

The High School for Arts and Business is located in the working class area of Corona, Queens and currently enrolls approximately 850 students of which 56 percent are girls.

Councilwoman Ferreras-Copeland plans to compliment the dispenser with an educational component for girls, their male peers and parents in the hopes that it will start a conversation and normalize the monthly ritual. In addition, the experience of the girls will be evaluated towards the end of the year to learn about best practices and possible improvements as the legislation moves forward.

Read This Next: Should You Switch to Organic Tampons?