On Tuesday evening, the Ann Arbor City Council passed a resolution requiring all public restrooms in the city to provide free sanitary products for menstruating individuals, becoming the first city in the country to do so. Sanitation products will be required in all men’s, women’s and gender-inclusive public restrooms, with the exception of those in places of worship.
The ordinance will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022. Any businesses found in violation of the ordinance will face a fine of no more than $100.
The resolution follows Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signing of a bill repealing the “tampon tax” in Michigan, which will cease the state’s value-added tax on menstrual products. In a previous conversation with The Daily, Whitmer said the purchase of these products is not discretionary, but is an essential need.
“People spend thousands of dollars (on menstrual products) over the course of a lifetime,” Whitmer said. “This is a meaningful improvement in terms of the bottom line for people like my daughters and me — (for) all of us who menstruate.”
During the public hearing for the resolution, Nancy Kramer, global chief evangelist at IBM iX, spoke on her decades of advocating for period parity in her own business. She expressed her thanks to the council for being the first city in the country to institute free sanitary products at the municipal level.
“Menstrual support products in all restrooms, for anyone who may need them, is a public health issue,” Kramer said. “It is what is right, it is what is going to provide equality (and) no one should be faced with the consequences of having an unexpected start to a menstrual cycle. The results can be humiliating, and the consequences are incredibly negative.”
Councilmember Travis Radina, D-Ward 3, said it is important that the resolution addresses menstruation needs in all bathrooms to accommodate people of all genders.
“This (resolution) is required for all restroom facilities,” Radina said. “We absolutely made that case during (the) drafting of this, and I know that the mayor made sure that this was available for anyone who may menstruate, and not just in women’s restrooms.”
Mayor Christopher Taylor said though there is a societal expectation to provide necessities such as toilet paper and paper towels in public restrooms, menstrual products have not been held to the same standard. He said the resolution will address period inequity and support the basic human need for sanitary products.
“If you have a public restroom, there will be people who are going to use the toilet and there should be toilet paper,” Taylor said. “There will be people who want to wash their hands and there should be soap and paper towels available for all. And, if you have a public restroom, there are going to be people who menstruate, and there should be tampons and pads available for all.”
Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, acknowledged that enforcement of the resolution will be a financial challenge for many businesses. He said he hopes the resolution will create more discussions around public restrooms as a municipal issue.
“I think the burden is too much on small businesses to accommodate so much of what our government fails to do,” Ramlawi said. “This is not going to put people out of business, but I think it needs to be noted that we need to have our own public restrooms as a municipality, and not just put the responsibility on everybody else except for ourselves when it comes to providing these type of basic human rights and issues that affect us all.”
In May, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., introduced legislation advocating for states to be able to use federal grant funds toward supporting free menstrual products in schools, homeless shelters, universities and prisons.
Councilmember Linh Song, D-Ward 2, said she is confident local businesses will be able to implement the resolution with the help of this ongoing legislation introduced at the federal level and the recent state-level repeal of taxes on menstrual products. She said she has spoken with multiple local businesses, as well as the Ann Arbor Public Library and schools, who have already provided products ahead of the resolution.
“We are encouraging local business owners to invest in dignity,” Song said. “I (have) reached out to women like myself, who lost pregnancies in public places and had to return to work. So this is a matter of dignity and not just period poverty. It’s dignity and being able to return to work during your shift and being able to continue with what you can do (along) with these challenges.”
Daily Staff Reporter Vanessa Kiefer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.