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When we go into a public bathroom, we expect a few things to be there - soap, toilet paper, something to dry our hands. But what about tampons and pads? A town in Massachusetts is making menstrual products as routinely available as those other bathroom staples. Ally Jarmanning of member station WBUR in Boston reports.
ALLY JARMANNING, BYLINE: Pst (ph). Hey. Do you have a tampon? We've all been there - well, those of us who menstruate. Go into the bathroom, seeing it's the start of your period, realizing you don't have a tampon or a pad handy. That starts the scramble - a run out to buy supplies or pestering friends for a spare or worse; going without one. But soon, if you're in the town of Brookline, just outside Boston, you'll be in luck. Sarah Groustra got it all started. Last year, she wrote a column in her high school newspaper about the stigma around periods.
SARAH GROUSTRA: Everyone had these strategies of, like, how to hide their menstrual products. Like, I remember I used to take dance classes at the high school. And when I changed after dance classes, I would zip tampons into my boots so that I wouldn't have to take them out during class to go to the bathroom.
JARMANNING: In her piece, Groustra called for an end to period shaming.
GROUSTRA: It shouldn't be, like, a brave or, like, you know, sort of like self-confident thing to be able to, like, take a tampon out of your backpack and go to the bathroom.
JARMANNING: Rebecca Stone read the column. And even for the self-described feminist, Groustra's description of period shaming was an eye-opener.
REBECCA STONE: And, of course, once you start seeing it, it becomes more and more obvious what a fundamental issue this is for gender equity and for the dignity of women and female-bodied individuals.
JARMANNING: Stone's an elected official in town. She got to work, along with students, on an effort that would lead the town to vote to become what it says is the first municipality to offer free tampons and pads in all restrooms for anyone who needs them. The town estimates it will cost $40,000 upfront and about $7,500 a year going forward. But it's worth it, Stone says, to end the stigma and the strain on those who have periods.
STONE: You know, in the United States, girls learn very early that this is their problem. And you are expected to be discreet. And we do not impose this on others.
JARMANNING: Other communities are also taking action, but most of these laws have focused on areas of most need, like schools, prisons and shelters, where people might not be able to afford tampons and pads. California, New York and Illinois have passed state laws requiring menstrual products in public schools. Sarah Groustra, a student who sparked this conversation, says it isn't just about having the tampon there when you need it. It's about an acknowledgement from your hometown that periods happen.
GROUSTRA: By having the community or that community space provide for you in that way is - it almost sends a message of, like, we understand that this is something that happens. And we want to be there for you and provide this for you.
JARMANNING: Brookline has until 2021 to stock its roughly 100 town-owned bathrooms with menstrual products. So eventually, you won't need to hide that tampon in your boot.
For NPR News, I'm Ally Jarmanning in Boston.
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