Associate Dean Margaret Johnson, director of the Bronfein Family Law Clinic and co-director of the Center on Applied Feminism, recently made a presentation based on her paper, Menstrual Justice, to the Technical Advisory Group for the Menstrual Health and Hygiene Policy Review Project, a collaboration between Columbia University and Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), a UN-hosted agency.
The Oct. 10-11 meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, was the inaugural gathering of the advisory group, which Johnson was invited to join. The policy review project is evaluating the effectiveness of policies and laws regarding menstrual health and hygiene in four countries: India, Kenya, Senegal and the United States. Johnson is one of two representatives of the United States in the advisory group.
In her presentation, Johnson outlined a policy agenda for the United States. Some jurisdictions have adopted some of these initiatives, but efforts are under way to broadly address the economic cost of menstrual products and the harassment and discrimination some menstruators experience. She cited the case of Alisha Coleman, a 911 operator in Georgia who was fired in 2016 for bleeding through her clothes when she experienced an unusually heavy period.
Goals include providing free, quality menstrual products to people incarcerated in all types of facilities: jails, prisons, juvenile detention centers, etc. These products should be freely available — i.e., one need not ask for them — and should be available to “all prisoners,” in consideration of transgender populations.
Public schools, homeless shelters and disaster shelters are asked to make menstrual products freely available. The “tampon tax,” currently law in 34 states, is discriminatory and should be repealed, menstrual justice advocates argue. Efforts must be made to destigmatize menstruation, they say, so it can be seen as a normal bodily occurrence.
Johnson also spoke at the first-ever National Period Day observance in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 19. Each state held a rally to draw attention to issues such as those Johnson described in her presentation. In Johnson’s remarks on the Capitol steps, she discussed the need for boys to be included in school-based education about menstruation, to help eradicate the stigma around the subject, which can lead to harassment of menstruating classmates. The UB School of Law’s Center on Applied Feminism was a co-sponsor of the event.