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Fighting period poverty in prisons and on campus

Access to menstrual products affects women in the US and around the world.
Photo: Taelar Pollmann · The Sentry

Campus initiative mirrors Colorado House Bill

Through pop culture artifacts like Orange is the New Black and Oscar-winning film Period. End of Sentence, discussions about menstruation under difficult circumstances have entered into the political foreground. Having a period in a place without proper resources, such as prison, is more than a hassle: it’s near impossible. 

Nearly 20 percent of the prison population in Colorado are women. Often, hygiene products are not designated as “necessary” products. This means products are available for purchase but are limited in quantity. Many must go without, making do with less effective, homemade products. 

Approved by the Colorado House in March, House Bill 19-1224 will require all Colorado prisons and jails to provide free and immediate menstrual products to women in custody. While similar policies were previously in place within Colorado prisons, they did not apply to women in county jails.

While The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, introduced in U.S. Congress, resulted in increased access to menstrual products within federal prisons granted by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, many women in state prisons and jails were left in the dust. 

The Colorado bill was passed unanimously, and a budget of $40,000 was granted to the Department of Corrections to provide tampons to all correctional facilities. Previously, access to products varied: Some women received only toilet paper, while others received actual menstrual products. Such inadequate access put women at risk for toxic shock syndrome and other infections. 

Period poverty, which refers to the lack of access to feminine hygiene products, doesn’t only apply to incarcerated women. A new initiative on campus, proposed to the CU Denver Student Government Association by senior Esther Bellinsky, has a similar goal: Free access to tampons and pads on campus.

Initially, Bellinsky used her own experience of not having tampons easily accessible on campus as a part of her senior capstone project, but she soon teamed up with SGA Vice President Frida Silva. Mixing passion with strategy, the duo has since written a complete research proposal and started a petition to submit to their networks in hopes that it will eventually be approved by Chancellor Dorothy Horrell and the chief financial officer. 

The policy would not add to student costs, as the products would be a recurring expense for the University. The initial figure rounds up to $35,000, which would decrease to approximately $13,000 per year after dispensers are installed.

“The reason we want the administration to finance this is because we believe this is an essential element for student health, staff health, faculty health. It relates to everybody,”  Bellinsky said. 

Currently, the project aims to distribute menstrual products within the women’s and gender neutral bathrooms on campus, but may also expand to men’s bathrooms in the future to create a more inclusive practice. 

Bellinsky and Silva are hopeful that the statewide bill, along with the elimination of taxes on menstrual products within Denver County, will send a strong message to the University. 

“If the University wants to continue to be a progressive leader in its community, then this is something it needs to implement,” Bellinsky said. “This is what it means to be CU in the City,” Silva added. 

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