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Activists Push for Free Female Hygiene Products in Prisons

The introduction and subsequent stalling of Arizona’s House Bill 2222, which addresses feminine hygiene products in prisons and jails,sparked the #LetItFlow Twitter movement, where women began mailing pads and tampons to Rep. T.J. Shope to encourage him to vote on the stalled bill that would provide adequate feminine hygiene product availability in the state’s federal prison.

After the online campaign of #LetItFlow, the Arizona Department of Corrections is making a change. Effective March 1st, the 4,000 inmates at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Perryville will receive a minimum of 36 sanitary pads or tampons each month and will also have access to additional free supplies upon request.

Before the introduction of the bill and the traction of the campaign, women in Perryville were only able to get 12 free pads a month and were restricted to 24 pads in possession at a time. If they needed additional supplies or preferred tampons, they would have to purchase those items on their own. Failure to comply with those regulations would result in commissary, recreation, and exercise privileges being revoked.

Last year, women in New York state and city facilities stated that hygiene products are used as bargaining chips which correction officers or other incarcerated women use to maintain control. The fact that the rules stated that women who needed extra supplies or preferred tampons would have to purchase the products in commissary made accessibility matters worse. Inmates typically make around 10 cents an hour, meaning they would have to choose between the sanitary products or other supplies and necessities.

“When I’m making nine cents an hour after tax, you really got to think if I want to put my whole month’s income into hopefully being approved for extra pads, if they believe I deserve them,” former inmate Adrienne Kitcheyan told NPR.

Chandra Bozelko, another former inmate, stated two possible ways prisons and jails could improve hygienic conditions. One way would be to place sanitary napkins or tampons in a common place. A second way would be to hold accountable correction officers who do not comply with requests for additional products.

Chief of Human Rights and Economic and Social Issues Jyoti Sanghera stated that the stigma around feminine hygiene violated the human rights of the women in jails and prisons. To these women, it’s more than just a pad or a tampon – it’s about dignity and being treated as a human.

“I can’t imagine something more uncomfortable than not having the menstrual products you need for your period,” said Democratic Rep. Athena Salman, who introduced HB 2222. “So my heart goes out to these women.”

Salman stated she hopes to see a more permanent solution in the future.

“While this is welcome news, in the future we would like to see this new policy codified in a way that can’t be undone by a new director or governor,” said Salman. “We will also remain vigilant to make sure it’s implemented as promised, with no unnecessary barriers to women receiving any products they need.”

The solution is clear: more representation of women in government is needed when it comes to formulating policies that affect the women who encounter the conditions daily. Hopefully, Rep. T.J. Shope will recognize that giving women proper access to hygiene products is a right, not a privilege, and the laws need to reflect that reality.

Featured Image by Ye Jinghan on Unsplash

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