This state just made a really important product free for prison inmates.

Imagine you're a young woman who, due to stress or a hormonal blip, or even just your personal biology, you have a longer-than-average menstruation cycle. Sounds annoying, right? Now think about what'd it be like to deal with that while in prison. Even if it's just for something minimal, like petty theft, disorderly conduct, or marijuana possession, you're allotted a dozen pads for the month — no matter what.

This is the reality for female prisoners all over America. But one state just made a move to change that.


Maryland has taken a landmark step towards making hygiene products more accessible for prison inmates.

On March 1, 2018, Maryland lawmakers unanimously approved bills that require correctional facilities to provide free feminine hygiene products to all inmates.

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The state mandate was a huge win for feminists and activists who've been pushing for inmate rights. Reproductive rights groups have long advocated for making hygiene products more accessible for inmates. Diana Philip, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, has been particularly outspoken about fair treatment for all women, and the need for state policies that make hygiene products accessible for incarcerated women. Philip's pointed out that women who've been incarcerated by the state haven't been able to get the supplies that they need.        

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

Inside or outside of prison, it's expensive to be a woman, particularly if you menstruate.

The good news? Federal policies actually make a lot of sense on this issue. But due to a weird quirk in U.S. prison practices, many incarcerated women will never benefit.  

Although federal prisons made hygiene products free for inmates in August 2017, most incarcerated women are actually in state prisons or local jails. This means that fewer than 10% of female inmates benefited from the new federal measures. Thus, most female inmates rely on state legislation to see changes in their prison. But, the problem of expensive or inaccessible products isn't limited to prisoners, though.

Photo by Presley Ann/Getty Images.

Even for women who've never seen a jail cell, a box of pads or tampons is pricey, ranging anywhere from $6 to $10 at a typical drugstore. Over the course of a lifetime, at a box of tampons or pads per month, the average person can easily spend thousands of dollars on hygiene products, and nearly $20,000 on products related to menstrual cycles, such as panty liners, Midol, and birth control.

Due to what's been deemed the “pink tax”, women have increasingly criticized the costs of hygiene-related and other products that are largely used by women. Low income communities are particularly vulnerable to these expenses, and are often unable to afford all of the costs that come with having a period.  

People who have periods have very different experiences from one another. Some experience extreme pain, have very heavy flows, and experience periods for more than seven days. Still, many prisons historically allocate a certain number of pads per month.

This disenfranchises women inmates with heavier or elongated flows. Women make roughly 75 cents a day for a day's work, and a 24-pack of pads is just over $2.50 in some states. With other necessities like deodorant, toothpaste, and edible food, saving for pads can be a challenge. When inmates need more hygiene products, they’re forced to rely on whatever income they make through the prison system to buy additional products.        

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

In a system that’s largely — and rightfully — criticized for its dehumanizing treatment of inmates, making hygiene products more accessible is a good step towards progress.  

As activists continue to push for inmate rights through various movements, such as the #LetItFlow campaign, there’s hope that other states will continue to shift policies to make prisons less dehumanizing to women. Recently, Arizona increased the number of pads it offers to inmates from 12 to 36.

Humans, regardless of background, experience, or misdeeds deserve rights to health, safety, and livelihood. By providing basic — yet necessary — products, our society can continue to move towards a more equitable and humane world for all.      

Anyone who came of age during the late 80's and early 90s is at least somewhat familiar with The Oregon Trail game. As one of the most popular computer-based video games of all time, it's a well-loved classic for late Gen Xers and early Millennials.

The game was designed to be educational, to teach kids about the Lewis & Clark expedition and westward expansion of the United States in the mid-1800s. Players were part of a wagon train traveling out west, encountering various challenges and pitfalls along the way, including the dreaded dysentery that led to countless players' demise.

Kids loved it. But unfortunately, not all of its lessons were accurate. In fact, the representation of Native Americans in the game perpetuated common stereotypes and myths about the Indigenous people of the time. Even one of the co-creators of the original game has said in recent years that it should have included a Native perspective.

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The global eradication of smallpox in 1980 is one of international public health's greatest successes. But in 1966, seven years after the World Health Organization announced a plan to rid the world of the disease, smallpox was still widespread. The culprits? A lack of funds, personnel and vaccine supply.

Meanwhile, outbreaks across South America, Africa, and Asia continued, as the highly contagious virus continued to kill three out of every 10 people who caught it, while leaving many survivors disfigured. It took a renewed commitment of resources from wealthy nations to fulfill the promise made in 1959.

Forty-one years later, although we face a different virus, the potential for vast destruction is just as great, and the challenges of funding, personnel and supply are still with us, along with last-mile distribution. Today, while 30% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, with numbers rising every day, there is an overwhelming gap between wealthy countries and the rest of the world. It's becoming evident that the impact on the countries getting left behind will eventually boomerang back to affect us all.

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The international nonprofit CARE recently released a policy paper that lays out the case for U.S. investment in a worldwide vaccination campaign. Founded 75 years ago, CARE works in over 100 countries and reaches more than 90 million people around the world through multiple humanitarian aid programs. Of note is the organization's worldwide reputation for its unshakeable commitment to the dignity of people; they're known for working hand-in-hand with communities and hold themselves to a high standard of accountability.

"As we enter into our second year of living with COVID-19, it has become painfully clear that the safety of any person depends on the global community's ability to protect every person," says Michelle Nunn, CARE USA's president and CEO. "While wealthy nations have begun inoculating their populations, new devastatingly lethal variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. If vaccinations don't effectively reach lower-income countries now, the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be catastrophic."

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