Michigan’s Ann Arbor becomes first major US city to require free period products in public restrooms

Ann Arbor’s city council unanimously passed an ordinance

Io Dodds
Sunday 21 November 2021 22:15
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The city of Ann Arbor, Michigan has struck a blow against period poverty by requiring all public toilets to have a stock of menstrual products.

Ann Arbor’s city council unanimously passed an ordinance on Monday defining period hygiene supplies as essential sanitation products on par with soap or toilet paper. The rule requires bathroom operators to make them accessible from the start of 2022.

Mayor Christopher Taylor said the measure was "a necessity and a long time coming".

"Access to these items is a matter of personal dignity, a human necessity, and a healthcare right,” he told the council.

It appears to be the first law of its kind, building on previous bills passed by US states and cities mandating menstrual products in school bathrooms, government-owned buildings, homeless shelters and prisons.

Campaigners hailed it as a victory for women and others who menstruate. "It really provides any person who’s been menstruating a peace of mind that they currently don’t have," Nancy Kramer, founder of Free the Tampon, told CNN. "It just helps us not have a level of potential embarrassment or humiliation.”

Michela Bedard, executive director of the non-profit PERIOD, said that it was possible that another town somewhere in the US had made a similar move without fanfare, but that this was the first major city to adopt such a rule.

Period poverty remains a problem in the US. One study in 2019 found that two thirds of low-income women in St Louis, Missouri, had struggled to afford menstrual hygiene products at some point in the past year, with one fifth facing that situation every month.

In many states, such products are still taxed as luxuries (often known as the "tampon tax") and cannot be purchased using government benefits such as food stamps. "This is a crisis that has been completely overlooked in our country," Ms Bedard told CNN.

The UK only ended the tampon tax at the start of 2021, when period products ceased to be classified as “luxury, non-essential items”.

The Ann Arbor ordinance makes no distinction between male and female bathrooms, though it does allow an exemption for places of worship where providing sanitation products would violate religious beliefs.

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