Recognizing that access to affordable menstrual products is key to the health and education success of New Jersey students, Governor Phil Murphy signed Bills (S-1221/A-1349) on 23 August 2023, requiring school districts to provide menstrual products free of charge in every public school with students in grades six through twelve. This legislation builds on the Murphy Administration’s ongoing efforts to equitably advance women’s health.
A 2021 study found that nearly one in four US teenagers struggles to afford menstrual products, especially students of color and those from low-income families. Access to menstrual hygiene products helps students focus on learning and prevents unnecessary infections that can cause chronic reproductive health challenges.
Under the new law, applicable schools will be required to provide menstrual products in at least half of all their female and gender-neutral bathrooms. Costs incurred by school districts in supplying menstrual products will be borne by the State.
“When students can’t access the menstrual products they need for their reproductive health, the potential stress and stigma too often distracts them from their classes or forces them to skip school entirely – leading to social and academic repercussions that no one should have to face,” said Governor Murphy. “
The New Jersey Department of Education and Department of Health will periodically assess whether the provision of these products is meeting the needs of menstruating students and if necessary, expand access to free menstrual products in grades below grade six.
This legislation builds upon the Murphy Administration’s other efforts to promote menstrual health in New Jersey. In 2019, the Administration required menstrual hygiene products to be provided free of charge to female inmates in the state correctional system. In addition, the Department of Health has created a website to provide residents with critical information about common menstrual health-related matters.
“Governor Murphy’s visionary initiative to make menstrual products freely available in our middle and high schools is monumental progress towards achieving menstrual equity in our education system,” said Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, Acting Commissioner of Education. “Menstrual hygiene should never hinder a student’s ability to fully engage and thrive in the classroom. By providing free access to these essential products, we are not only promoting health and well-being but also erasing a potential source of discomfort and stigma. This step underscores our dedication to fostering an environment where all students can focus on their education without the burden of unmet basic needs. It is a stride towards a more just and inclusive educational experience.”
“Having supplies for periods or menstrual cycles in our public schools helps to reduce inequities by increasing access to necessary products that may not be readily available to everyone,” said Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Kaitlan Baston. “This initiative will not only provide needed support to many school-aged kids with periods, it can also help normalize periods, help people overcome potential embarrassment or distress from not having what they need, and can support positive self-esteem. More information on period issues and products can be found at nj.gov/health/periods.”
The bill is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz and Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera, as well as Senator Vin Gopal and Assemblywomen Carol Murphy and Angela McKnight.
This article from the Harvard Radcliffe Institute on their 2022 exhibition Out for Blood: Feminine Hygiene to Menstrual Equity provides background information on the importance of menstrual equity and historical notes about the struggles women have experienced to maintain our dignity while dealing with an issue that is uniquely a woman’s concern.