In March 2021, U.S. News & World Report ranked New Jersey number one as the Best State for Education and number three as the Richest State in America. In June 2021, WalletHub named New Jersey as the number one place to live in the US. That same survey also ranked NJ in the top 10 for safety, quality of life and education. New Jersey was also among the first states to abolish the tampon tax.
Yet, every day in our state, over 50% of school age children cannot tend to their basic bodily needs because menstrual products are not provided in their schools’ bathrooms. This often requires an embarrassing trip to the nurse’s office or even back home if the school lacks the most essential supplies. It’s not hard to imagine the loss of class time, but what about the lost opportunity of education, the stigma, the injustice? New Jersey, where are you?
According to a national study commissioned by Period and Thinx, one in five teens struggles to afford menstrual products. As a result, 84% say they’ve missed school, or know somebody who has, putting them at a greater disadvantage and furthering inequities that already exist.
In New Jersey, a recent survey of 100 Jersey City students by the nonprofit The Flow Initiative found that 28% missed school because they did not have access to menstrual products, 90% needed a menstrual product while in school and 76% had a menstrual accident while in school.
Six years ago, in November 2016, before the first menstrual equity legislation had even passed in the United States, New Jersey began scripting the preliminary language for its own menstrual equity bill. Since then we have watched Washington D.C. and 21 other states, including conservative states like Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Utah, pass their own versions of menstrual equity bills, correcting an inequality in education and opportunity that is clearly a nonpartisan issue.
New Jersey is noticeably missing from that list of 21 states. We are no longer on the cutting edge of passing this sweeping legislation that would help middle and high schoolers in our state have equal access to menstrual products. Providing these products corrects discrimination against an entire group, providing equal opportunity to students across the state. It is time for menstrual products to be as accessible as toilet paper and paper towels. It is time for New Jersey to, once and again, stand and lead.
In September 2022, we witnessed eight menstrual equity bills unanimously pass through the New Jersey Assembly Women and Children Committee. While we were elated at the historic passage of these bills, we couldn’t help but feel as if the one of the largest and most vulnerable group of NJ constituents were not recognized. Then, in December 2022, the NJ Senate passed S1221, which establishes a program in the Department of Education to reimburse school districts for providing menstrual products in public schools grades 6-12 and requires the State to pay costs.