Four SGPIA students testified in a New York City Council hearing last week that will shape the first U.S. legislation regarding equal access to menstrual hygiene products. The June 2 Committee on Women’s Issues Hearing deliberated a package of bills that would make menstrual hygiene products free and readily available at New York City schools, correctional facilities and shelters.

The testimony of students Elyse Greenblatt, Monica Llaguno, Dafne Regenhardt, and Katarzyna Wrobel regarded four months of research they recently completed on women’s needs, access and experiences surrounding menstruation and menstrual products in the municipal shelter system. Their testimony supported a bill sponsored by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito that would require the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to provide tampons and pads to all menstruating residents in temporary shelters.  

The students, who designed their research in The New School’s Practicum in International Affairs, interviewed women residing in five shelters located throughout New York City, and administrative staff working at the shelters. The students took turns sharing their research at the hearing, with Monica Llaguno summarizing their findings: “Inconsistent supply, low quality products, insufficient variety, and lack of privacy and confidentiality are problems that this legislation can solve.”

From left to right: Katarzyna Wrobel, Elyse Greenblatt, Laurie Cumbo, (Chair of the City Council Committee on Women's Issues), Helen Rosenthal, (Council Member of New York City), Monica Llaguno, Dafne Regenhardt
Left to right: Katarzyna Wrobel, Elyse Greenblatt, Laurie Cumbo, (Chair of the NYC Council Committee on Women’s Issues), Helen Rosenthal, (NYC Council Member), Monica Llaguno, Dafne Regenhardt. Read more about the history behind “The Future is Female” t-shirts here.

Increased access to menstrual hygiene products would have a positive impact on the economic development and empowerment of women residing in shelters because women they would be less likely to miss school or work during their cycles, the students testified. The students concluded that increased access to menstrual hygiene also provides women with a greater sense of dignity and physical well-being.

Dafne Regenhardt explained that these outcomes would contribute to greater societal causes: “Health and social research has identified poor menstrual hygiene management as a critical development issue and an obstruction to achieving gender equality,” she remarked. “Empowering the disenfranchised group of sheltered menstruating persons is not a matter of social justice and vital for the impacted group but also critical for the development of society and the economy as a whole.”

The students will continue their participation in a variety of other public discussions surrounding access to menstrual hygiene products. Following the hearing, the New York City Bar Association invited the students to present their research to its Social Welfare Committee meeting on June 23. Last February, the students contributed to a roundtable discussion the city hosted, and in March they attended a press release of the city’s pilot program that installed menstrual products in 25 local public schools.

Last May, when the students presented their work at The New School alongside other group projects completed in the university’s Practicum in International Affairs, they also shook up the narrative surrounding what types of projects constitute international development. Elyse Greenblatt explained the global perspective behind her group’s “local” work: “When you’re in the United States doing ‘international development’ and discussing countries that are so far from you, it can be easy to forget that there are existing problems in the United States that are not being dealt with.”

Katarzyna Wrobel echoed this idea: “Just because a country has reached some defined level of development doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t continue developing,” she explained, “The issue of empowering women and allowing people who menstruate to save more money…it’s very much a development thing. It’s giving them additional resources that they would have previously had to spend on [menstrual hygiene] products that they can now save or put to whatever other needs they have.”

The students will soon find out whether the development initiative they support will come to fruition; the legislation they testified about will be put to a vote later this summer.