After facing initial supply shortages, the City of Gainesville now says it has 85% of public restrooms stocked with free menstrual products.
“It’s a matter of basic healthcare and human dignity,” Commissioner Reina Saco said. “This is an extra expense that is handled by only part of the population. A half that is historically underpaid, and the city should be looking for ways to alleviate the financial burden to our community.”
The city commission voted unanimously in October 2022 to approve a proposal that provides free menstrual products for residents at municipal restrooms to combat rising costs, affordability and accessibility.
Saco led the motion. She was inspired by University of Florida Student Senate’s unsuccessful attempt to make menstrual products free on campus years ago, the City of Ann Arbor’s success with a mandatory city-wide initiative and an intern who was incredibly passionate about the topic.
Free menstrual products have been placed in both women’s and men’s restrooms.
Saco said the commission felt that it was important to have products in all the bathrooms because how a person physically presents is not necessarily an indicator of their healthcare needs.
When asked why the initiative took months to implement, Saco said, “planning and procuring materials for a government project takes time, and our staff wanted to make sure the launch went as well as it could.”
Twenty-five million women in the United States live in period poverty, according to the American Medical Women’s Association. One in five of these women has missed class or work because they did not have access to a pad or tampon.
Mayor Harvey Ward said, after hearing Saco’s plan, he thought it was ridiculous that it was even a question.
“These products should be in restrooms everywhere,” Ward said. “We don’t ask people to bring their own hand soap into a public restroom. We don’t ask people to walk in with a roll of toilet paper. Why would we ask people to bring any other things into the restroom that just make sense to be there?”
Belinda Smith, the founder of Women Working With Women Inc. said making free menstrual products available was crucial.
“In order to enhance the quality of women’s lives, they must have the required tools needed to improve their personal and professional situations,” she said.
The money needed for the initiative came from a general fund. The fee to get the products established throughout the city was roughly $20,000, and continuing to stock them will cost anywhere from $2,000-to-$5,000 annually, according to Ward.
Olivia Mooney, an 18-year-old host at Ford’s Garage, said anyone who has ever, even for a moment, experienced that awful panic when you get your period in public and don’t have what you need understands why access to period products is so important.
“Not everyone has an extra $20 a month to spend on tampons,” she said. “Even if you can afford them, sometimes you aren’t prepared. They aren’t a luxury, they’re a necessity.”
Candice Sanz, a 20-year-old single mom, does not believe these products should be free. However, she said they should be easier to access and more affordable.
“It’s like saying clothes should be free because everyone wears them,” Sanz said. “Water isn’t free. Glasses aren’t free. Healthcare isn’t free. These are all things we need, but they shouldn’t be free because we don’t live in a socialist nation.”
Ward said the intent of the initiative was not to stop people from having to purchase the products but to help people have better lives.
Raghav Bassi, a 28-year-old doctor at North Florida Regional Medical Center, said access to free menstrual products will be life-changing, especially for people who can’t afford to miss work or school.
“The initiative may not fix the stigma around menstruation,” he said. “But, it is a step in the right direction. When considering women’s health, I am hopeful for what lies ahead.”