CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire middle and high schools are now required to provide free feminine hygiene products to students.
Calling it an issue of “equality and dignity,” Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill Wednesday to require all female and gender-neutral bathrooms in middle and high schools to stock free menstrual products. Supporters say lack of access to such products contributes to “period poverty” as girls whose families can’t afford the products stay at home or miss class when they have to get the supplies from a school nurse.
A student at Spaulding High School in Rochester, Caroline Dillon, is largely responsible for writing the bill and getting support from lawmakers. Dillon reached out to State Senator Martha Hennessey for assistance in creating the bill and getting it approved. Dillon, a senior last year, and another student from the middle school, testified on the necessity of the bill before lawmakers.
“I know for a fact that girls here and at the middle school will stay home if they don’t have access, and they’ll [do] awful things like using socks or newspaper or reusing things, and your risk for infection skyrockets,” she told The Associated Press at the time.
During her junior year in high school, Dillon did a project in her U.S. History class “to see if women have really achieved equality,” she said. “I did a Google search and it came up with the term ‘period poverty.’ I stayed up all night researching it, and I thought maybe I should do something about it.”
Dillon said her science teacher did a survey to find out how much students were affected by not being able to afford, or not having access to menstrual products. “In my school one in five girls said they had stayed home, or left early because of it.”
Although some high schools have product dispensers in the bathrooms, Dillon said, “More often than not they’re empty or they’re broken.”
Sen. Hennessey credited Dillon with bringing the law about.
“It would not have happened without her,” Hennessey told the Eagle Times. “She brought it to my attention. I knew this was an international problem but I did not realize at the time there were middle school and high school students not going to school because they don’t have access to menstrual products. I think it’s a much bigger problem than we knew.”
Menstrual supplies are already provided to students through the school nurses’ offices, but this provision would make it so students who really can’t afford them don’t have to constantly get passes to go to the nurse. The products will be moved to the girls’ or gender-neutral bathrooms.
“I thought about how embarrassing and difficult it would be for people having these issues,” said Dillon. “I personally have never been affected by this, so it wasn’t my place to feel awkward.”
Dillon will attend the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing this fall.
Sununu said the new law will help ensure young women can learn without disruption and free of shame or stigma. Opponents said the bill amounts to an unconstitutional unfunded mandate.
Editor’s note: Glynis Hart contributed writing to this report.