Ann Arbor just passed a landmark law mandating menstruation products in public restrooms. It could be a sign of more to come.
Ann Arbor, Michigan, has become the first U.S. city to require free menstrual products in all public restrooms, according to politicians and advocates.
The ordinance, passed unanimously by the city council, requires any “individual or entity responsible for managing or maintaining a Public Restroom,” including businesses, to offer tampons or sanitary pads by Jan. 1, and will fine $100 to any that fail to comply. The city will not provide the products to the businesses directly.
“Public reception has been overwhelmingly positive. And, you know, I think that is kind of what I expected,” Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor, who championed the move, told Fortune.
The idea to pass menstrual product requirements began when a high school student visited Taylor to advocate for unhoused people to get better access to pads and tampons. When Taylor looked into the issue, he found that major legislation has been passed to combat this issue in Illinois, where menstrual products are required in all public school bathrooms, and Scotland, which became the first country in the world to approve a bill to require regional leaders to provide free menstrual products to “anyone who needs them.”
Taylor decided to take up the issue in his own city, and introduced the bill to the Ann Arbor city council, after which it passed unanimously on Nov. 15.
The city ordinance comes soon after Michigan’s decision to repeal the state tampon tax, which was signed into law earlier this month. Repealing the tax will slash about $4,800 on hygiene products in the average menstruator’s life, according to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Menstrual equity organizers say that young activists across the country have been invigorated by the back-to-back state and city victories in Michigan, according to Anusha Singh, a 22-year old youth activist who works at PERIOD, a national menstrual equity nonprofit. Singh says she worked on the state menstrual tax repeal, alongside other local Michigan organizations.
“A lot of these activists reached out and I was on calls with them,” Singh told Fortune. “And they wanted to also advocate for this at their schools, at the district level, and even statewide.”
Singh anticipates an upcoming wave of new legislation across the country combating menstrual health inequities.
The persistence of youth activists has been paramount in the fight for menstrual equity in Michigan, according to Michigan House Rep. Padma Kuppa, one of the legislators to re-introduce the bills to repeal the tampon tax.
“If I didn’t have all those youth voices powering me, sometimes being in the chamber can be very difficult,” she told Fortune.
Aunt Flow, a company headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, that sells baskets and dispensaries full of menstrual products to businesses and schools, has received a significant uptick in product requests from business owners in Ann Arbor since the law was passed, according to CEO Claire Coder.
“Our team is working all hours to make sure that these businesses have what they need,” she told Fortune. “This legislation passes and people are excited about it. But then we get businesses calling us and saying, ‘Okay, this is great, but how do we actually make this work at our business?’”
Coder said that in her role, she’s seen a big cultural shift about menstrual products over the past five years, even before the Ann Arbor law. Whereas before it was individual activists advocating for free menstrual products, she’s now also hearing from business owners who want to be proactive about providing menstrual products.
“People who provide public restrooms throughout the city are pretty well practiced in providing a variety of sanitation products,” Taylor said about the costs of the new law. “They pretty much all have soap, they pretty much all have paper towels and toilet paper. It’s not a great stretch to figure out how to include tampons and pads in the restroom as well.”
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