Women Are Mailing Tampons To A Politician Fighting Free Menstrual Products In Prisons

by Lani Seelinger

Arizona state representative T.J. Shope doesn't need menstrual pads or tampons, but he'll be getting plenty of them in the mail anyway. Women are sending the Arizona politician tampons and pads after Shope stalled a bill that would have granted free, unlimited tampons and pads to female inmates in Arizona state prisons.

House Bill 2222, introduced by Rep. Athena Salman, was designed to give female inmates all of the menstrual products that they need at no extra cost to them. It would add only $80,000 to the budget of the state's Department of Corrections. "This issue speaks to the basic dignity of being a woman," Rep Salman told CNN. "By denying women additional pads and no free tampons, that is violating a woman's dignity and that's fundamentally wrong."

"I’m almost sorry I heard the bill," said one Republican representative, Jay Lawrence, after hearing debate on the bill. "I didn’t expect to hear pads and tampons and the problems of periods."

Fellow Republican Rep. Shope later prevented the bill from moving forward.

Currently, women in Arizona state penitentiaries are allowed 12 pads a month, and they can only have 24 at any given time. They don't get any tampons for free, and paying for a box of tampons — which many agree is the most comfortable way to survive a period — at a prisoner's low salary of about 15 cents an hour costs about 27 hours of work. This situation can leave inmates unable to take care of what is truly basic female hygiene, but, unfortunately, not all legislators, in Arizona or elsewhere, see it that way.

The women trying to inundate Shope's office with menstrual products aren't just doing it to be contrary. The products, along with some cash, are meant as donations to the Arizona Department of Corrections and therefore to the inmates within that system. A spokesman for the House of Representatives Republican Caucus told CNN that they're looking into whether it's possible for the products to be donated to the DOC. "If not, Representative Shope would like to donate them to a women's shelter in his district," he said.

As the campaign is still new, the products haven't arrived — but judging by the explosion of Twitter posts with the hashtag #LetItFlow, Shope's going to be getting a pretty big delivery soon. People have been noting all the reasons why the current policy is inhumane and unhygienic for the women who have to suffer through it and encouraging Shope to give the bill a chance at passing.

"Did you know that some women have periods for 7 days? Even if a thin pad lasts 12 hours (it won't) that's 14 not 12," wrote Twitter user @KDSarge. "Something as natural as a menstrual cycle. No, we can't hold it in like urine. Yes, blood stains are difficult to get out," wrote Twitter user @DrJuliaPRS. "Most men don't have a basic understanding of a menstrual cycle yet they have the power to determine access and control of women's bodies."

This isn't just a problem in the Arizona DOC. Prisons across the country subject women to shortages of the products that every woman uses on her period, often leading to humiliating and unsanitary for the women, if for example, they have to make a single pad last for days at a time. Mother Jones reports that the federal Bureau of Prisons recently made unlimited menstrual hygiene products free for their inmates, but that doesn't help the approximately 90 percent of female inmates who are housed in state or local prisons.

The movement to combat the stigma against menstruation has gripped the globe, and multiple countries have ended taxes on tampons and pads — which the U.S. still hasn't done. However, the male Arizona representatives' distaste at hearing about the bill and refusal to discuss it in session proves that, unfortunately for the women whose lives are at the hands of the state, there's still a long way to go.