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.

Photo via iStock.

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.      

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

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The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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