Two weeks ago, I learned about a bill in the Arizona House of Representatives that would allow women in the state's lone women's prison to access as many tampons or pads as they need to manage their periods. The Department of Corrections only permitted women to get 12 pads per month and made inmates pay for extras, even though they earned only 15 cents/hour performing prison labor. An all-male House committee listened to testimony from former inmates who described "free-bleeding," being punished for possessing contraband when they turned pads into tampons and getting denied more pads by guards who decided they didn't need them. To their credit, they voted to unlock the bill and enable it to proceed for a full vote.
In less than a week, the story received nearly 500,000 engagements across the Global Citizen website and social media. The massive interest in the story demonstrates how compelling and personal WASH for women are for so many people in the US and around the world. Period-health seems particularly important.
The House rules committee chair eventually killed the bill. He said the matter should be left up to the Department of Corrections and not state lawmakers.
Last week, I spoke with Rep. Athena Salman who introduced the bill to overturn the arbitrary 12-pads-per-month rule. Though the bill had been defeated, the movement it helped foster had only just begun. Women and their advocates have sent tampons, pads and messages to her male colleagues, alerting them to the importance of the issue.
The Department of Corrections has even decided to increase the number of free pads they provide to 36.
Thet's a positive development, but, Salman said, it might just be the start of the movement make prisons more just.
“[What] I hope happens in Arizona is that we’re not only addressing the menstrual health equity issue but that we continue to look at all the issues women face behind bars and try to fix those,” Salman said.