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Are Facility Managers Ready for the Menstrual Equity Movement?


Earlier this summer, the New York City Council and the mayor of New York made it official: tampons will be available for free in all New York City schools.

This is part of a trend moving throughout the country, often referred to as the “menstrual equity” movement. While not all advocates for menstrual equity are asking that tampons be available for free, most are asking that the sales tax on tampons and related feminine hygiene products be removed and that feminine hygiene dispensers be installed in all ladies’ restrooms.

At this time, the city of Chicago as well as five states – Maryland, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Massachusetts – have eliminated sales tax on tampons, and more are considering doing the same. In at least one state, Wisconsin, some women are pushing very hard to eliminate taxes on tampons. This is because in Wisconsin, there is no tax on Viagra, but tampons and other feminine hygiene products are subject to sales taxes.

To be clear, no area of the country has a specific tax applied to tampons, as most have on alcohol or tobacco products. And in those places where tampons and related feminine hygiene products are taxed, it appears they were just lumped together with all the other thousands of items that are subject to sales tax.

But the fact that there is a sales tax on these products is not the big issue for many women. Many advocates believe the steps taken in New York City are appropriate and that tampons should be available for free – just like toilet paper and hand towels – for all women, whether in school, shopping, or at work.

However, in schools having free and available tampons is even more important. This is because in many schools across the country, young girls must go to the school nurse to get a tampon. For many young girls, there is a combination of confusion, shame, and embarrassment about having their period. Needing to go to the school nurse for a feminine hygiene product takes this a step further, causing some girls to feel there is something wrong with them.

And as referenced earlier, one of the things most women’s groups are advocating, regardless of taxes, is for all types of facilities – schools and universities, hospitals, stores, office buildings, etc. – to install feminine hygiene product dispensers. As we shall discuss, for a variety of reasons, these dispensing systems can be hard to find.

The Missing Tampon-Dispensing Machine
Earlier this year, a publication that caters to the high-tech industry discussed a situation in which a woman, the CEO of a 330-person marketing agency, was meeting with a major client. During the meeting she realized that her period had begun. Excusing herself, she rushed to the women’s restroom – in a very “swanky” facility, as it was described – only to find “there was not a tampon or pad dispenser in sight. She returned to her seat at the table, trying desperately not to get sidetracked by fear that she might leave the meeting with an unsightly stain at the back of her dress or worse, on the chair.”1

As many women will attest, this situation is very common. So why was there no tampon dispenser in the restroom? And along with this question, we should also ask: Why, when tampon dispensers are installed, do so many not work?

Among the answers to these questions are the following:Tampons

  • For building owners and managers, there is little financial incentive to install these machines (at one time, owners could make a small profit from these machines, but rarely today).
  • Similarly, distributors are not interested in marketing tampon dispensers because the profit margin is often nominal.
  • Many building owners and managers believe most women carry these products with them, making purchasing a dispenser unnecessary.
  • Theft issues are common; when this happens, the dispenser may be broken or need repair.
  • Many dispensers have a tendency to break down even if there is no tampering or theft. This adds “insult to injury” for owners and managers who may not want them installed in the first place. Now they have to find and pay someone to repair them or purchase a new dispenser system.

Fresh Eyes
According to Amy Seretsky, Washroom Category Manager at Impact-Products, which manufactures feminine hygiene dispensers and receptacles, building owners and managers as well as distributors “should see menstrual equity as both a need and an opportunity. For distributors, more and more building owners and managers now treat tampons as they do paper towels or toilet paper, something that must be available in their facility. And for owners and managers, it is just recognizing that this is a product that should be available in women’s restrooms, just like any other paper products.”

To encourage this and to address the fact that some tampon dispensers have a tendency to break, Seretsky says at least one manufacturer of these dispensing machines is now providing, at no cost, what are referred to as the “internal meter mechanisms” that work within the vending machine to dispense the product.

These internal meter mechanisms are designed to help prevent waste and pilferage of tampon products. Yet this is the part of the dispenser that tends to break most often.

If these internal mechanisms are available for free, building managers and owners face one less hurdle in installing and maintaining these dispensers. As Seretsky explains, because the menstrual equity movement is advocating that all girls’ and women’s restrooms have these dispensers installed, “this will help [building] owners and managers stay compliant with equity legislation as it evolves.”

Finally, of all the issues that have given rise to the menstrual equity movement, Seretsky believes one of the most important is addressing the shame some young girls feel about themselves.

“Needing to go to the nurse’s office for a tampon affects how young girls feel about themselves,” says Seretsky. “By offering them free or making sure they are readily available, school administrators can help remove the stigma and the shame young girls feel. At this young age, we want them to feel confident and strong about becoming a woman.”

K.M. Picket is an author and freelance writer addressing a number of cleaning and facility maintenance issues.

1Bleeding on the Job: A Menstruation Investigation,” by Elizabeth Segran, Fast Magazine, July 26, 2016.