State needs to consider its women

With a male-dominated Pennsylvania General Assembly, it will be interesting to watch how the following legislative proposal is greeted, discussed and, finally, plays out.

Most women will agree that it is a measure that should not be tabled.

By way of an Oct. 7 press release published by the news and information service Capitolwire, state Sen. Maria Collett, D-Bucks and Montgomery, announced that she has introduced legislation to establish what she has titled the “Pennsylvania Menstrual Equity Act.”

The purpose of her proposal is to ensure that menstrual products are made available in public bathroom facilities.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer,” Collett said. “Humans need toilet paper. Public restrooms supply toilet paper. This is no different. Lack of access to these products can lead to compromised hygiene, embarrassment due to stigma, even missed days of work or school. Lack of public access is especially punitive to those living in poverty.

“Menstrual products are not covered by programs like SNAP or WIC.”

Collett noted that, in researching the issue, she sought the input of the woman considered to be the nation’s leading expert on the topic, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, co-founder of Period Equity and vice president of the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, whose 2017 book “Periods Gone Public” propelled the issue into the national spotlight.

In her news release, the Bucks-Montgomery lawmaker pointed out that for nearly a century, the Keystone State has required that public bathroom facilities provide basic health and hygiene supplies such as toilet paper and soap, plus trash receptacles. However, no similar requirement exists for menstrual products.

Under Collett’s legislation, Pennsylvania agencies serving the young, low-income, homeless or incarcerated would be mandated to make menstrual products available at no cost just as they do with toilet paper and other basic hygiene products.

However, the news release didn’t address the issue of abuse of the availability of the products, and that must be an issue of concern to those required to make the products available.

It’s not something that people routinely talk about, but it is not uncommon for toilet paper, soap and paper towels to be stolen from public restrooms. Therefore, it isn’t unrealistic to surmise that something similar could happen in regard to the availability of free menstrual products.

The Collett legislation, if approved, could inspire a challenge for someone or some companies to devise dispensing systems that would deter theft of the free supplies and thus the inconvenience and embarrassing circumstances that might result from such thefts.

NYU’s Weiss-Wolf has praised Collett for “acknowledgment that policies to ensure menstrual access are a key driver of true gender equity.”

Weiss-Wolf added: “The ability to participate fully in one’s education, in the workforce — and in daily life — requires that we acknowledge the existence and impact of menstruation, plain and simple.” She said Collett’s “comprehensive bill sets the standard for how all states should be doing this.”

Meanwhile, by way of a product drive that will continue until Saturday, National Period Day, Collett’s office is collecting menstrual hygiene products to donate to teens and adults in need.

It will be interesting to watch the male-dominated state Legislature’s response to this legislative challenge.

Hopefully, the response will be expeditious and respectful, attracting legislative co-sponsors from central Pennsylvania along the way.