Gripping a poster that read, “keep your profit out of my pants,” Linda Liedel, a junior at Harvard University, rode the subway to Government Center station. Standing out on the T—, various people approached her, inquiring about the sign. Once at City Hall Plaza, however, Liedel blended into a crowd of activists, including two women dressed as tampons.
The Massachusetts National Period Day Rally on Saturday chipped away at period stigma while promoting the ‘I AM’ bill– Bill S.1274. The bill would require free period products, including sanitary napkins, tampons and underwear liner, to be placed in public schools, prisons and homeless shelters.
The bill was created by the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women, Mass NOW, who describe themselves as, “the only multi-issue and multi-strategy organization in the Commonwealth,” on their website.
The legislation aims to destigmatize menstruation, shining a light on the financial burdens of period products and promoting open discussions at the legislative level.
Massachusetts State Senator Patricia Jehlen from the Second Middlesex district, one of the bill’s lead sponsors, said that while growing up she never would have believed that one day she would stand at Boston City Hall Plaza and say, “I’m a former menstruator.”
“I want to thank all the people who brought me to this moment, who allowed me to talk about tampons and say words in public that I was taught never to say out loud,” Jehlen said.
Jehlen’s office co-sponsored the bill in tandem with Representative Jay Livingstone, the Massachusetts representative for the eighth Suffolk district, Senator Julian Cyr from the Cape and Islands district, Representative Christine Barber from the 34th Middlesex District and Mass NOW. She initially learned about efforts from young women to get access to free menstrual products by visiting Somerville High School and witnessing first hand how a group of students organized to get such products placed in the school’s restrooms. Since then she has met various young women leading the charge to make the personal political again.
Kimberly Blair, the co-founder of the Period Project at Boston University’s School of Public Health who spoke at the rally, conducted a cost analysis of the ‘I AM’ bill over the summer while working for Livingstone.
Through analyzing 2018-2019 school enrollment data from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Blair said she found that 231,545 potentially menstruating students across 849 schools that do not implement free products, or plan to in the future.
As the ‘I AM’ bill slowly moves up the legislative ladder, towns are taking matters into their own hands. Brookline voted in May 2019 to offer free tampons and pads in every town-owned building– becoming the first municipality in the United States to do so. By July 2021, these buildings will all carry period products.
Christine Barber, a Massachusetts state representative for Somerville and Medford and one of the bill’s sponsors, spoke at the event on the importance of the bill, and encouraging those in the audience to reach out to their state representatives and senators to move the bill forward.
“Tell them you support this bill, tell them why, tell them your story and let them know that this bill is a priority,” Barber said. “We need all of you to keep up the momentum and to make this a success and pass this bill.”
Correction: In a previous version of this article Representative Livingstone was not listed along with the bill’s other sponsors. This article has been updated to reflect this change.