Here are some things the pandemic cannot stop: periods and period poverty. Period poverty impacts many women and girls, denying them access to period products and interfering with their lives on a monthly basis. Without access to female hygiene products, girls skip school, and are denied opportunities.
In order to overcome period poverty, legislation is key, and California in particular has had some disruption in getting period poverty bills through the legislative process.
Enter the Period Princess
California Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) previously held the moniker Tampon Queen, but recently she changed it to Period Princess. “I’m going for product neutrality,” Garcia jokingly told Parentology.
In all seriousness, the Period Princess has a great track record when it comes to flow friendly laws. She shepherded Senate Bill 92 through (Governor Gavin Newsom greenlighted it in June), making diapers and menstrual products exempt from sales and use taxes. The exemption has a sunset, meaning it expires in 2023, and Garcia wants to guarantee exemption on a permanent basis.
Garcia’s bill AB-31 would have extended the exemption through 2028, but it’s been tabled due to COVID-19 concerns. “It’s in the Senate, but I’m unsure of its fate. They’re only hearing COVID and economic recovery bills right now,” Garcia says. She’s had to whittle her bills down from 15 to just five this year because of these extenuating circumstances.
Ingredient Transparency in Products
One common controversy in feminine hygiene products has been the lack of transparency in terms of ingredients. While it would be nice to think products like tampons and pads are “clean,” the reality is quite different.
These products have a host of chemicals in them, which is a disturbing thought considering the fragile mucosal tissue they come in contact with for hours at a time. AB-1989 will force manufacturers to list those ingredients clearly on the packaging. This law is similar to one already passed in New York.
What AB-1989 doesn’t do, though, is compel manufacturers to list CBI, or confidential business information. This means that chemicals involving fragrance and other attributes considered proprietary by the companies can be excluded from the ingredients lists. Legislators are concerned that companies might object and sue if denied CBI, thus undermining the entire law.
The organization Women’s Voices for the Earth refused to endorse AB-1989 because of this exemption. “To its credit, AB 1989 does not allow corporations to hide any ingredients found on certain designated lists of chemicals of concern. But there are emerging chemicals that are not yet included on any of the designated lists — namely allergens,” Women’s Voices told Parentology.
But in this case, the perfect bill might be the enemy of the good. “We all want the best legislation to protect public health. This bill is still stronger than what was passed in New York,” Garcia explained. “The reality is, we always do amendments to bills later. The process creates a better bill.”
Delphine Hirsh, co-founder of the period product advocacy organization The Flow, agrees. “AB1989 is a step in the right direction. Women have a right to know what’s in a product that they use every month for, on average, thirty-nine years of their lives and that can affect their health. It’s outrageous that it’s taken this long for this type of disclosure,” Hirsh told Parentology. “And we thank Assemblyperson Garcia for leading on this issue and other issues of menstrual equity. However, we hope that this bill will ultimately also address the concerns of activists about certain allergens.”
Putting Products in Community Colleges: Postponed
There have been steps forward with period poverty legislation, but the pandemic and resulting economic crisis in California has taken a toll. AB-2003 aimed to extend the availability of free products in bathrooms to community colleges, but it’s been tabled until at least next year.
The Period Princess Garcia isn’t deterred. “It’s always been my goal to increase access in any bathroom that supplies toilet paper. We should be spending money to help our students out there.”
She plans to fight period poverty, bill by bill. She’s hoping for a permanent end to taxes on products, with no sunsets. And she wants greater efficiency in the process overall. “We need to prioritize Covid and prioritize racism right now, but we also need to multitask.”