Kathy Hochul, who was sworn in this year as New York’s first woman elected governor, worked with a cohort of mostly women lawmakers to pass the new Health Equity and Opportunity legislative package. (Credit: Gov. Kathy Hochul, Instagram)

Each month, roughly 23 percent of the global population menstruate. Still, menstruation is often seen as “dirty,” a perception fueled by a combination of misogyny and age-old myths. One Bible verse asserts that menstruating women – and anything they sit on – are “unclean.”  

Even language such as “feminine hygiene products” and “sanitary napkins” contributes to this by carrying an implication that menstruation is unhygienic and unsanitary. That’s why New York’s women lawmakers are replacing these terms. 

This month, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation to replace these terms with “menstrual products” in the state’s public health laws. The legislation also will require middle and high schools to provide students with free pads and tampons on the same level as other school-sanctioned supplies like bandages.

“From simply updating the way certain products are referred to, to expanding access to vital resources for those who may need them most, as time progresses, so should our laws,” Hochul said in a statement. 

This legislation was created by a cohort of mostly women lawmakers, including State Senators Roxanne J. Persaud and Iwen Chu, as well as Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal.

“Outdated terminology perpetuates stigma surrounding menstruation, which ultimately discourages conversations that enable access to basic resources,” Sen. Persaud said. “This bill recognizes the simple reality that menstruation is not dirty, but rather a natural bodily function.”

A 2018 study commissioned by Thinx, a period solutions company that sells period-proof underwear, found that 42 percent of women have experienced period-shaming, with one in five reporting those feelings as a result of comments made by a male friend.

The consequences of period-shaming stretch much further than embarrassment – according to the United Nations Population Fund, this stigma can lead to barriers to opportunities, sanitation and health, and heightened vulnerability.

The legislation will go into effect immediately, with terms like “feminine hygiene products” and “sanitary napkins” also being removed from the state’s corrections and tax laws. 

“In so doing,” Persaud said, “we take another step in lifting the stigma, combatting period poverty, and ensuring equal dignity for all individuals who menstruate throughout New York.”