Students rally for state legislation to end period poverty

Impassioned speakers and protesters demanded accessibility to free menstrual products and an end to period stigmatization on Saturday at the Massachusetts National Period Day Rally.

“I want to live in a world where a menstrual stain is not social suicide,” University of Massachusetts Boston Professor Chris Bobel, one of the speakers at the rally, said.

Dozens of attendees gathered outside City Hall to rally in support of the Mass National Organization for Women (Mass NOW)  “I AM” statewide bill. If passed, the bill would provide free access to menstrual products at public schools, homeless shelters, prisons, and county jails across the commonwealth. The bill has over 70 co-sponsors in the state House and Senate, including Massachusetts state Senator Patricia Jehlen and state Rep. Christine Barber.

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Demonstrators dressed in all red, holding posters with illustrations of menstrual blood and vulvas. Together, the crowd chanted in unison, “Hey hey, ho ho, period poverty has got to go!”

Emerson Flows, the official campus organization for menstrual advocacy, attended the rally to support the bill. Emerson Flows is one of multiple Massachusetts college chapters of PERIOD., a national menstrual equity organization. Emerson Flows President Natalie Deroche emphasized the importance of the “I AM” bill being passed in Massachusetts in a previous Beacon article.

Several other states including New York in 2018 and New Hampshire earlier this year have passed bills to increase accessibility to menstrual products. Sasha Goodfriend, president of Mass NOW, said during the rally that passing a bill like this in Massachusetts is plausible.

“This bill passed in New York City in 2016, so we know that passing this bill is possible,” Goodfriend said. “The ‘I AM’ bill would be the most comprehensive equity legislation in the country and we know we would see reverberations.”

One of the organizers of the rally, Brandeis University sophomore Linzy Rosen, emphasized the necessity for people to keep up the urgency felt on Saturday in order for the “I AM” bill to succeed.

“It will take a village to get the ‘I AM’ bill passed,” Rosen said. “It will take a village to continue the menstrual movement. A few months ago, I wasn’t sure if we could get a menstrual rally here in the city of Boston, but here we are, yelling about periods and so much more across the country.”

Organizers of the rally handed out postcards stamped with the Mass NOW logo that attendees could mail to Massachusetts legislators to bring attention to the bill. Many of the attendees wore shirts that read, “We are the menstrual movement,” in red ink, and a few attendees dressed as tampons to highlight their cause.

Event organizer and Northeastern University senior Diya Khullar said she was impressed by the varying crowds that attended the rally.

“I was super impressed by the age range of our participants,” Khullar said. “We had, I think a five-year-old little girl, and then non-menstruators who are in their later years. I also just loved visually seeing the sea of red.”

Jehlen expressed similar sentiments to Khullar, saying she found the diverse crowds in attendance impressive.

“I am following the leadership of so many young women, and it is important to them,” Jehlen said. “What was amazing to me is you see a lot of crowds that are not integrated. This is a very diverse crowd.”

Genevieve Brusie, a resident of Weston who attended the rally, noted the role that non-menstruators play in the fight to end period poverty.

“It’s also really cool to see people who don’t menstruate that are also here in support because I think that’s another key piece in this,” Brusie said. “Unfortunately, nothing can be done without allies.”

The “I AM” senate bill went through a joint hearing on Sept. 24. Barber said she hopes the “I AM” bill will move forward in the legislative process in the months to come.

“We had a really strong hearing a couple weeks ago, it’s still in the public health committee,” Barber said. “We are hopeful it will move forward. It is always hard to build momentum on any legislation in the first year, especially after it’s filed. It should get out of committee in the next few months.”

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