Women's restroom

There is a global movement happening this year that may surprise you.

Menstrual hygiene has been in the headlines in countries around the world. The United Nations has declared feminine hygiene a public health, gender equality and human rights issue. Canada just became the first country to ax the “tampon tax” — the sales tax imposed on tampons, sanitary napkins, and other feminine hygiene products. The UK and Australia are pursuing similar initiatives.

Here in America we have a long way to go. Currently only five states have decided not to tax tampons. Spoiler alert: Wisconsin is not one of them. Furthermore, low-income women who rely on food stamps can’t use their federal assistance on tampons and the IRS does not allow the use of flexible spending accounts (FSAs) to purchase these items.

All of this proves beyond a doubt that for far too long, menstruation has been stigmatized, hidden, and treated with shame and derision.

I initiated this dialogue in Wisconsin by introducing a bill that would require restrooms in any building owned, leased or occupied by the state to dispense feminine hygiene products at no cost to those using the facilities.

Public restrooms are universally stocked with toilet paper, paper towels, and soap. Yet tampons and pads have historically been left off this list of typical bathroom products.

No one should have to miss work or school, or risk their health, or compromise their dignity, because they menstruate. The ability to manage this normal bodily function is a necessity, not an entitlement or privilege. Anyone who has ever had a period will tell you just how necessary feminine products are, and it can be an urgent, unexpected need.

While many school districts across Wisconsin do provide feminine hygiene products, it is not universal. The nurse’s office may offer an emergency stash, yet having to ask for a tampon in front of a room full of people can be intimidating and embarrassing for young people. If something as simple as tampons being provided in restrooms can keep girls engaged and productive in school, it is worth every penny of the modest state investment.

This legislation has sparked a debate here in Wisconsin. My office has heard from both supporters and detractors of this bill. Sadly, there has been a plethora of misogynistic, misinformed comments made through phone calls, emails and social media. My hope is that bringing this issue out from the shadows into the public policy arena will overcome some of these misconceptions.

This is not a luxury good, nor is it a government handout. If nothing else, this bill begins a conversation that starts with a basic premise: Men walk into a public restroom and they have everything they need to take care of ordinary bodily functions. Women don’t.

Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, is a member of the Wisconsin Assembly.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to tctvoice@madison.com. Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

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