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Congress supports Menstruation Equity, aka Period Parity

• Updated Jul 29, 2018 at 4:00 PM

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed a bill supporting menstruation equity — sometimes also known as period parity or period equity — which allows women to buy menstrual hygiene products with pre-tax money from health flexible spending accounts, and it is considering the Menstrual Equity For All Act [H.R. 972], which would require certain groups of girls and women to have access to the products.

This - along with a decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to add feminine care products to the list of items made available to homeless assistance providers, New York State's plan to provide free feminine hygiene products in schools, India scrapping a controversial tax on sanitary pads, and the action by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to include partial funding for the "tampon tax repeal" in her proposed fiscal 2019 budget - shows that this new movement is strong and likely to continue to make progress towards period parity, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.

But, says Banzhaf, whom the media has dubbed "The Father of Potty Parity," the movement should now also begin using legal action to achieve even more menstrual victories for women, and to demonstrate the need for additional legislation, as the potty parity movement has in reducing discrimination against women related to restrooms.

For example, a legal complaint he filed helped force the U.S. House of Representatives to finally construct the first female restroom adjacent to the House floor so that female members are no longer "forced to urinate in a coffee cup" (as one report put it). Another Banzhaf potty parity legal complaint prompted the University of Michigan to provide additional restroom facilities for females when it renovated its Hill Auditorium.

A new movement being termed menstrual equity - also known as period parity or period equity- is advancing with champions including Duchess Meghan Markle, Representatives Grace Meng and Sean Patrick Murphy, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), Chelsea Clinton, and many others, and now it includes events called "period parties."

Newsweek reports that "Menstrual Equity Is the New Thing," and that the related "fight to send period shaming has gone mainstream."

The term menstrual equity has been defined as "fairness for how women are treated in society because they menstruate." Here are just a few additional indications that the movement is advancing.

Representatives Meng and Maloney, both New York Democrats, have asked the House to provide tampons free of charge in all common bathrooms, and to permit reimbursements to offices that buy them, just as they do for toilet paper, soap, paper towels, and other restroom hygiene supplies.

Both Markle and Chelsea Clinton have recently written articles in support of menstrual equity. Former president Barack Obama, asked why tampons and pads are taxed as luxury items in 40 states, replied, "I have no ideas why states would tax these as luxury items. I suspect it's because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed."

In a Washington Post article entitled "D.C. Moves One Step Closer to Menstrual Equity," which the Post says shows "her leadership on menstrual equity, an issue that has become a national movement," Bowser has included partial funding for the "tampon tax repeal" in her proposed fiscal 2019 budget.

Similarly, the New York Times, in an article entitled "It's Not Just the Tampon Tax: Why Periods Are Political," reported: "Globally, advocates are pushing for recognition of a woman's right to manage her period with dignity. And in the United States, activists are bringing the concept of 'menstrual equity' into the public debate."

There are also growing reports of a new phenomenon of "period parties."

Some colleges have gone even further than providing free female products in female restrooms. Several - including Bowdoin, Brown, Cornell and the University of Wisconsin-Madison - are reportedly making menstrual products available for free in campus rooms - and are even putting them in both the men's and women's restrooms.

But, notes Professor Banzhaf, this new movement is apparently relying primarily upon trying to change the attitudes of the public and legislators but - unlike the potty parity, women's rights, nonsmoker's rights, LGBT's rights, and other similar movements - it has yet to take advantage of the power of legal action to both force change and to educate the public.

For example, failing to provide tampons in female rest rooms, while providing soap, paper towels, and toilet paper in rest rooms generally, could fall within a new class of legal cases cited by Banzhaf when he brings actions in support of potty parity.

Both decisions, by different U.S. Courts of Appeals, held that providing exactly the same restroom facilities for men and women can still constitute illegal sex discrimination - under disparate impact and/or sexual harassment and/or hostile work environment legal theories - if what is provided does not meet the special and additional needs of females, based upon what one court said are "anatomical differences between men and women [which] are 'immutable characteristics,' just as race, color and national origin are."

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