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New York City Program Will Provide Free Tampons to Some Students

A New York City program will put dispensers in the bathrooms of 25 public schools, which will give out free tampons and pads to students.

The program is a collaboration between the New York City Department of Education and members of the New York City Council. It should be fully operational by the end of March. 

The dispensers are expected to be installed at 25 middle and high schools in the Bronx and Queens. About 11,600 girls stand to benefit from the program, which will cost about $160,000.

The initiative is based on a small pilot conducted last year at the High School for Arts and Business, in Queens. Attendance increased slightly from 90 percent to 92.4 percent during the pilot, and girls were less likely to ask to be excused from class during the school day, according to the councilwoman who supported the pilot, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland. (The program was reported earlier this week in the New York Daily News.)

"Every young person should have their essential needs met in order to do well in school," Ferreras-Copeland said in a press release on the program.

"Feminine hygiene products are as essential as toilet paper, helping women prevent health risks and fulfill their daily activities uninterrupted by nature," she added. "Providing young women with pads and tampons in schools will help them stay focused on their learning and sends a message about value and respect for their bodies. No young woman should face losing class time because she is too embarrassed to ask for, can't afford, or simply cannot access feminine hygiene products."

There is an increasing movement to promote and recognize the importance of menstrual hygiene and menstrual education. Menstruation is often stigmatized, and in many parts of the world, it is a major barrier to girls' education, with girls missing school for long stretches of time. The sanitation issues that make school attendance difficult for girls across the globe have also been highlighted in First lady Michelle Obama's Let Girls Learn initiative.

Ferreras-Copeland said the initiative grew out of her observance that girls were skipping their afterschool classes or were embarrassed to ask for pads at an afterschool program she ran in Queens.

The education department's deputy chancellor, Elizabeth Rose, praised the program, which will also include menstrual education in health classes and other informational posters.

"Having easy access to feminine care products is essential to ensuring that girls in our schools have the supports they need to focus on learning and feel comfortable during classes," Rose said. "This pilot marks a major step in providing additional resources to students in need."

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, vice president of development at NYU's Brennan Center for Justice, said it was a "groundbreaking" program that would "combat period shame."

"The country is paying attention to menstrual equity, especially as activists fight the 'tampon tax,' she said. "It is exciting to see other cities follow New York's lead, including Chicago, Madison, WI and Columbus, OH. Teens shouldn't have to miss school or class because they can't afford tampons or pads. Rather, they should be given every chance to succeed in school. This is one way to help make that happen."

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