Hey NJ, We are watching you...
We're dealing with a bit of disappointment this week at Girls Helping Girls. Period. HQ. We're also really mad, frankly... and nothing fuels our fire quiet like anger.🔥
We got news that A3388, the bill in the NJ Legislature that would ensure that public school students across the state have access to free menstrual products in school bathrooms, has been pushed to next year. Again. For a little more than five years now, versions of this bill have been stalled, or set aside. Once again, menstruating students will get a subtle message that their schools, and their own state, doesn't think their educations are a priority. We just don't know how else to interpret these actions anymore. We KNOW that students are missing classes and sometimes whole school days for lack of access to pads and tampons. And I guess... we're ok with that?!
In preparation for the bill's discussion in the NJ Assembly Women and Children Committee, I have been working with students from a high school in Newark who participate in a Reproductive Justice Project group. They have powerful messages for their government and their voices should be heard, so I'm sharing, with their permission, a little bit of the testimony they plan to offer when the finally get their day in Trenton.
I am looking forward to hearing more from these students, and many of their peers, when they will, hopefully, have a chance to testify on behalf of A3388 in the new year.
In the meantime... New Jersey would do well to learn from the work going on in California, where Governor Newsom signed AB 367 earlier this year which requires schools, including community colleges and state universities, to provide free menstrual products in the bathrooms. There are, to be sure, some shortcomings in that law including a provision that the mandate only applies to schools that meet a threshold population of low-income students. It also does not provide state funding for the measure, which will have to come from each institution and school district. The work to get schools ready for when the law takes effect is already under way. The "State Hornet" reports that at Sacramento State, which has a student population of more than 30,000, facilities managers are assessing the best locations for products to most effectively meet the needs of students.
"There are a lot of moving parts but being ready by the fall is very doable." -Justin Reginato, associate vice president of facilities management at Sacramento State
AB 367 passed in California in large part to a student-led demand for change. Audin Leung and several classmates helped spark the movement at UC-Davis, where administrators challenged them to prove they needed period products in bathrooms. (Again, nothing like frustration and anger to propel a movement.) Their work morphed into a statewide coalition of students they called "Free the Period," which lobbied for passage of AB 367, dubbed the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021. At least 14 states have now passed laws that recognize that offering free period products for students is part of meeting their basic needs. I mean, does anyone even need to hear the analogy to toilet paper anymore?
The new legislative session can not come soon enough. Those of us lobbying for this bill in New Jersey will only come at it more forcefully next year. Until then, if you'd like to help make real, substantive change in NJ here are two things you can do:
Check out the work of Equality Period-NJ, a statewide coalition working on passage of the bill. If you're interested in becoming a member, or participating in the work, reach out at email@example.com
Reach out to the bill sponsors in the NJ Legislature and say THANK YOU for their hard work. We are hopeful this will go to the top of the agenda in the new year, and we want to let these lawmakers know we appreciate their efforts.
Here's to 2022! (We'll just add this to the list of things we hope are better next year.)