Thanks to the legislation, products include both tampons and sanitary pads. The bill applies to both public and private schools, including colleges and universities. If a school serving students in grades six through 12 (basically, middle and high school) does not have a gender-neutral bathroom available, the free sanitary products must be available in either at least one bathroom for boys or in the nurse’s office. Again, it would be ideal to have these options available in all bathrooms, but it’s a step. In grades three through five, the products must be available in a location designated by the school principal or a health room, like a nurse’s office.
This isn’t the first time Washington State has taken a positive step in terms of menstrual products and equality. As of 2020, a new law came into effect that removed sales tax from products like menstrual cups, tampons, and sanitary pads. It’s estimated that menstruating people in the state could save as much as $3 million collectively in just one year thanks to Inslee signing Senate Bill 5147 into law.
What would be even better in the big picture? Making menstrual products free in all public bathrooms. Mind you, we’re a ways away from that, but people are talking about it. If the idea sounds ridiculous to you, consider how often you go into a public bathroom and expect to pay for toilet paper, soap, or paper towels—and how frustrated you may (reasonably) become to find that, for example, the soap dispenser is empty or the toilet paper is missing. It’s not your fault you have bodily functions, right? And it’s certainly not your fault you want to be responsible and hygienic. Similarly, people who menstruate quite literally cannot control it.
Even the issue of money aside (which is a big one in itself), the idea that people are expected to always have their own products on them suggests that people should always have their own toilet paper or soap on them—a ridiculous idea, at least in the way life in the United States functions. While this idea has yet to pick up majorly in the U.S., other nations are making moves on it. Scotland, for example, has made all period products free, including making them easily available in schools and universities.
If you’d like to read a particularly moving piece about menstruation and poverty, definitely check out this incredible personal essay by my colleague Jessica Sutherland.