While schools are a good starting point to implement programs offering free menstrual products, advocates hope to see changes in all facilities.

“New York has become the template for others,” says Hemann. “This will have a halo effect, and eventually places like fast-food restaurants that encourage people to linger will provide these products because they’re a necessity.”

Even federal prisons are recognizing these items as a basic requirement. According to a CNN report, the Federal Bureau of Prisons recently issued a memo that requires all federal prisons to provide female inmates with a range of hygiene products, free of charge.

“There’s a huge issue in prisons with women not getting sufficient product every month, and they have to pay exorbitant amounts of money in commissary for them,” says Lascoe. “Every public facility should have free feminine-care products. No matter what your background is, all women have been without a tampon when they need it, and it can be distracting and shameful.”

While some businesses are just beginning to hop on the free-tampon bandwagon, others have been offering them for years. According to online news sources, Nancy Kramer, founder of marketing agency Resource/Ammirati and freethetampon.org, a national campaign to make feminine products freely accessible in every restroom, has offered free feminine products in her company’s restrooms since 1982. The decision came after she was pleasantly surprised to see them in the ladies rooms at Apple’s corporate headquarters.

And at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, patrons have had access to free tampons and pads in all first aid and guest services stations since 2007. The service is funded by the Baltimore Ravens and Medstar, the healthcare organization in charge of the stadium’s medical needs.

Stadium employees are aware of the service and direct women to guest services when needed. There are also signs in all women’s restrooms informing them that feminine products are available in the first aid stations.

“We used to have dispensers in the restrooms when the stadium was first built, and the cost was about 50 cents per product,” says Bart Shifler, manager of stadium operations. “But what if you don’t have two quarters in your pocket and you really need it? It just caused a lot of confusion and created problems.”

Stocking the dispensers was also time consuming, and if a custodian was out sick, the dispensers could potentially run out of product. Finally, in 2006, Shifler had the dispensers removed.

“Why charge somebody because they forgot something?” he says. “Providing free tampons and pads is a good service for our fans.”

Gaining Momentum

Programs that support free feminine hygiene products are gaining momentum as more businesses, women groups, student activists and politicians fight for reform.

“Menstruation is a biological function,” says Hemann, “and, as a matter of gender equality, menstrual-care products should be as readily available and free of charge as toilet paper, paper towels, toilet seat covers and soap.”

Universal access to tampons and pads is not only a necessity for women, but a necessity for businesses.

“If you’re at all concerned about optimizing the customer experience, then menstrual care products in the restroom should become a requirement,” says Hemann. “Providing this necessity really demonstrates high regard for your customers, employees and patrons. If you have any doubt, just ask your wife, daughter or significant other.” 

KASSANDRA KANIA is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

UPDATE: In January 2018, California legislators announced a new law that will require lower-income schools throughout the state to provide menstrual products to girls at no charge. Read the full announcement here.

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