People line up to cross the Simon Bolivar international bridge from San Antonio del Tachira in Venezuela to Cucuta, in Colombia, to buy goods due to supplies shortage in their country. Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro ordered the reopening of the country’s border with Colombia on Friday.
SCHNEYDER MENDOZA/AFP/Getty Images
SCHNEYDER MENDOZA/AFP/Getty Images
Crowds of Venezuelans lined up at two international bridges leading to Colombia on Saturday, as the border between the countries opened for the first time in four months.
Thousands of people crossed over, seeking food, medicine and basic supplies. For months, Venezuelans have been dealing with power outages, hyperinflation and increased violence due to the deepening political and economic crises in the country.
In a tweet announcing the move, Venezuela’s authoritarian president Nicolás Maduro ordered the reopening of the border with Colombia on Friday and said in Spanish, “We are a people of peace who firmly defend our independence and self-determination.”
En ejercicio pleno de nuestra soberanía, he ordenado la apertura de los pasos fronterizos con Colombia en el Estado Táchira, a partir de este sábado #8Jun. Somos un pueblo de paz que defiende firmemente nuestra independencia y autodeterminación.
— Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) June 7, 2019
The border with Colombia was closed earlier this year in an attempt by Maduro’s government to block opposition and humanitarian groups from delivering foreign aid to Venezuelans in need. Venezuela’s borders with Brazil and the island of Aruba were also closed.
Maduro is in a power struggle with opposition leader Juan Guaidó, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly who declared himself Venezuela’s president in January. Guaidó has been recognized as Venezuela’s rightful head of state by more than 50 countries, including the United States.
Maduro has been able to remain in power in part due to the loyalty of the military and support from powerful allies like China and Russia, the BBC reports.
In April, Guaidó led a failed attempt to oust Maduro. In a recent interview with NPR, he said most military officers do not support Maduro but fear reprisals should they be caught conspiring with the opposition.
“The main factor is fear, and we have to figure out a way to overcome the fear,” Guaidó told NPR.
Recently, the two sides have entered into talks in Oslo, Norway, but they have not come away with significant results.
More than 4 million refugees and migrants have fled Venezuela since 2015, the U.N’s refugee agency UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration announced on Friday. In the seven months since November 2018, the number of refugees and migrants increased by 1 million.
Latin American countries are hosting the vast majority of Venezuelans, with Colombia accounting for around 1.3 million and Peru with some 768,000. Chile, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil all are hosting more than 100,000, the U.N report says.
UNHCR’s special envoy Angelina Jolie greets a group of Venezuelan migrants at an United Nations-run camp in Maicao, Colombia, on border with Venezuela. Jolie visited the camp to learn more about the conditions faced by migrants and refugees and raise awareness about their needs.
Actress and UNHCR’s special envoy Angelina Jolie visited another part of the Colombia-Venezuela border to raise awareness about the needs of migrants and refugees on Saturday.
Jolie met with Colombian President Iván Duque and discussed the thousands of Venezuelan children living in Colombia who are at risk of being stateless.
Jolie appealed for more humanity and increased funding for the UNHCR in a statement about her visit:
“This is a life and death situation for millions of Venezuelans. But UNHCR has received only a fraction of the funds it needs, to do even the bare minimum to help them survive. The countries receiving them, like Colombia, are trying to manage an unmanageable situation with insufficient resources. But neither they nor humanitarian actors like UNHCR are getting the funds they need in order to keep the pace with the influx, and yet they still do everything they can.”
Sudanese men and a child headed to a mosque navigate a roadblock set by protesters on a main street in the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
A civil disobedience campaign in Sudan has brought the country’s capital to a standstill, closing down restaurants, banks and other businesses and turning streets desolate on Sunday, the latest escalation by protesters demanding an end to military rule.
The mass showing of government defiance follows a military crackdown, as NPR reported, that protesters say left more than 100 killed by security forces in Khartoum over the past week. Government forces also cut off mobile data, which most Sudanese use to access the Internet, posing major difficulties in getting basic information out of Sudan.
In addition to those killed, at least 784 people have been wounded in Khartoum since Monday, the World Health Organization reported on Saturday.
Deserted streets in Sudan as people participate in national strikes/ civil disobedience which began today & will end ‘only when a civilian government announces itself in power on state television’ says the
Sudanese Professionals Association.
(Video via WhatsApp) pic.twitter.com/9F1yWy67Fl
— Samira Sawlani (@samirasawlani) June 9, 2019
The strike on what is supposed to be the first working day of the week comes after months of popular protests precipitated a military coup in April. The country’s longtime president, Omar al-Bashir, was arrested and military leaders pledged to hand power to civilians. But since then, the military junta has insisted on staying in power through a long transition period.
In recent days, the military regime has been rounding up essential employees at gunpoint to take them back to work. But opposition leaders called for everyone to stay home — or go into hiding — in an effort to force the military junta to hand over power to civilians.
On Saturday, small groups took the streets and set up road blocks and chanted anti-government slogans. But they were quickly dispersed by security forces using live rounds.
The Sudanese Professionals Association, which led the protests that took down al-Bashir, called on international financial institutions to not work with the military government. Instead, the association is demanding more support to “stop to the bloodshed and assassinations faced by political leaders and activists, while fully holding the coup council and its militias responsible for any attack or arrest.”
The United Nations says a monitoring team should be rapidly deployed to Sudan to examine allegations of human rights violations during the recent military crackdown.
Also in Washington, D.C., the U.S. State Department issued a statement condemning the military-led violent attacks and called on an end to the conflict and a transition to a civilian government.
Human rights groups say military forces should withdraw from their policing and law enforcement roles.
“What we have witnessed in the past three days is horrific and barbaric. The senseless killing of protesters must be stopped immediately, and those responsible for the bloodbath, including at command level, must be held fully accountable for their dreadful actions,” Amnesty International’s Secretary General Kumi Naidoo said in a statement.
Naidoo also called on the military junta to end its Internet and social media blackout “to allow the people of Sudan access to information and the opportunity to exercise their freedom of expression.”
A protester shouts next to policemen as protesters march in a rally against the proposed amendments to extradition law in Hong Kong.
Tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday in a show of defiance against a government proposal that would allow people to be extradited to mainland China to face charges.
Protesters carrying banners and signs objecting to the government-backed legislation marched and chanted “no extradition” through the city center. Many of the marchers wore white, a symbol of justice and mourning in Chinese culture.
The crowds were so massive that droves of protesters found themselves marooned in subway stations.
Two and a half hours later – Hong Kong’s rally against extradition is going strong. Feels like a historic moment. Many people who don’t protest normally are here. pic.twitter.com/gKsLPFDN6v
— Erin Hale (@erinhale) June 9, 2019
As the overflowing throngs marched, Hong Kong authorities threatened to use force if people spilled over police barriers.
The bill at the center of the demonstrations would let criminal suspects be extradited to places where Hong Kong has no formal extradition agreement, such as mainland China.
Record numbers on the streets of Hong Kong, in protest again the Extradition Law.
Mtr stations have been closed down, crowds still joining at starting point, three hours after the start of the march.
— Denise Ho (HOCC) (@hoccgoomusic) June 9, 2019
Officials in Hong Kong are expected to bring the proposed law to parliament on Wednesday. Critics of the bill say it would enable China to prosecute its political opponents in the city. Yet Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, is pushing for the proposal’s passage before summer break in mid-July.
In Washington, D.C., a group of bipartisan legislators led by Rep. James McGovern and Sen. Marco Rubio, who chair the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, sent a letter last month to Lam expressing concern that the law would “negatively impact the relationship between the United States and Hong Kong,” asking that the legislation be immediately withdrawn.
“We believe the proposed legislation would irreparably damage Hong Kong’s cherished autonomy and protections for human rights by allowing the Chinese government to request extradition of business persons, journalists, rights advocates and political activists residing in Hong Kong,” the American lawmakers wrote.
Lam has defended the law by saying it will close a long-standing legal loophole.
#hongkongers are making history today. All lanes of the Hennessy Road – including those which police refused to open before – are flooded by protesters against the #extraditionbill @SCMPNews pic.twitter.com/UTr2ui7Fix
— Jeffie Lam (@jeffielam) June 9, 2019
The immediate goal of the government is to have a speedy trial for a Hong Kong man suspected of killing his girlfriend to Taiwan to stand trial, The South China Morning Post has reported.
But there is widespread concern about the broader implication of the proposed law for Hong Kong, a former British colony that was returned to China in 1997 but has maintained its own legal and political system for 50 years.
“I needed to let my voice be heard,” Kitty Wong, a 38-year-old teacher who joined a protest for the first time, told the Wall Street Journal. She gestured to her two children, ages 8 and 9, and said: “We need to defend our home for the next generation.”
How far would you go to get away from a narcissistic mother?
If you’re 20-year-old Betty Braithwaite, you’d rather face the London Blitz than go back home. But then Betty’s mother heads straight for the bombs to fetch her back.
Mrs. Braithwaithe is the bombastic, crashing, presumptuous and therefore unlikeliest of spies at the center of Jennifer Ryan’s new novel, The Spies of Shilling Lane. The story opens with Mrs. Braithwaite alone on a train. She’s the village busybody who’s gotten her comeuppance: Betty has left her, so has her husband. She’s been sacked as head of the village ladies’ volunteer war committee; ostensibly because she was caught spying (clumsily) on a fellow committee member she’d accused of stealing a pig. The deeper reason? “The truth is, we’re fed up with you bossing everyone around,” one of the ladies says.
Unmoored and friendless, Mrs. Braithwaite decides to seek out her daughter in London. She hasn’t forgiven Betty for leaving, and wants her home. But beneath Mrs. Braithwaithe’s bluster is the desire to know that someone out there loves her. That’s the beauty of Ryan’s work: She treats angry, scraping characters such as Mrs. Braithwaite — and Edwina Paltry, the unscrupulous midwife in Ryan’s first book, The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir — with the care their own deep wounds desperately need.
Both novels pit fractious characters against kinder (and more curious) souls to see what emerges. The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir explored village life during World War II. The men have gone to war and so far only bodies have come home, so the women of the village have a choice: Continue in their old Victorian status-seeking ways, or come together and support each other.
The Spies of Shilling Lane is narrower in scope. It’s largely Mrs. Braithwaite’s story — what set her on her cold-hearted, overbearing path, and what helps her change course. As she sits in that train carriage, doubts start to seep in about the life she’s led. Her daughter has barely spoken to her since she left home, a repayment for a lifetime of her mother’s criticism — why did Betty have to be so bookish; why did she prefer plain clothes; why did she leave her mother? — or just being ignored.
When Mrs. Braithwaite finally arrives on Betty’s doorstep in Shilling Lane, she intends to berate her again, only her daughter isn’t there. Betty hasn’t been seen in several days, and no one in the boarding house seems to care. At this point, Mrs. Braithwaite’s bluster turns into true courage. That same presumptuousness that enabled her to boss everyone around in the village is exactly the trait needed to find her missing daughter.
Mrs. Braithwaite drags along Betty’s mousy landlord Mr. Norris for a sidekick. He’s her exact opposite, a man who wants to erase all trace of himself. Mrs. Braithwaite, however, gives him no choice in the matter and together, they break into houses, a butcher shop and infiltrate a Nazi spy ring — anything and everything to find Betty.
It’s through this search — and the horror of the nightly Nazi bombings — that Mrs. Braithwaite comes to recognize the mistakes she’s made and the false values of the Victorian class system she grew up with. She realizes the wonder that is her daughter, and hopes it’s not too late to reconnect.
This is a crisp and energetic book, a suspense story that explores our darker sides without drowning us. Ryan’s use of language is grippy and plosive. There’s just the right amount of tutting, snapping, clasping, grasping, sneering and snarling that, along with a tight plot, keep a reader gladly bouncing along. What truly stands out the underlying tone of joy in Ryan’s writing; there’s warmth and care even in the darkest moments.
Ryan has delivered a suspense story with high stakes, but nothing drops to sinister or degrading. It’s a refreshing and rare quality when you’ve had enough of nonstop grim headlines, or other suspense novels that mine depravity to seize readers’ attention. Rather, Shilling Lane gives us characters we all long to believe in; it tells us there is redemption and forgiveness in the world, that people do learn from their mistakes and make amends. That mothers will stop at nothing, and that is why we both hate them and love them.
At its height, the National Welfare Rights Organization had more than 25,000 dues-paying members. Some people have called it “the largest black feminist organization in American history.”
Jack Rottier Collection/George Mason University Libraries
Jack Rottier Collection/George Mason University Libraries
In 1996, the New Republic ran a bright, red cover that perfectly captured the tenor of the contemporary debate over welfare. “DAY OF RECKONING,” a cover line read, above a photograph of an unidentified black woman. She was smoking a cigarette in one hand and holding a baby with a bottle in the other. The text beneath that image read “Sign the Welfare Bill Now.” The racial optics were not subtle.
The welfare bill in question fundamentally changed the New Deal-era program by putting limits on how long people could draw benefits and placed new restrictions on who was eligible. The goal, its proponents said, was to get millions of people off welfare and into work.
President Clinton ran on a campaign promise to “end welfare as we know it,” but that bill sat on the back-burner until Congressional Republicans swept the 1994 midterms and decided to hold him to it. Clinton would sign welfare reform into law the summer after that New Republic cover story ran. The bill was enormously controversial; one of Clinton’s top economic advisers resigned in protest, saying the plan would cut millions of poor people off from much-needed help.
At the Rose Garden ceremony for that bill’s signing, Clinton was flanked by Lillie Harden, a black single mother and former welfare recipient from Arkansas. She said that Bill Clinton’s previous efforts to reduce the welfare rolls as governor of that state had set her on the path to work and self-sufficiency.
“Going to work gave me independence to take care of my children and to make sure there was always food on the table and a roof over their heads,” Harden said at the signing ceremony. “Having a job gave me a chance to focus on school and getting a good education.”
Harden stood on the dais with Penelope Howard, another former welfare recipient, surrounded by powerful, smiling white people, seemingly happy to usher millions like them into a new life of independence from the state. Again, the optics were hard to miss.
Lillie Harden and Penelope Howard, two former welfare recipients, were invited guests to President Clinton’s signing of the law that would place new requirements and restrictions on welfare.
J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Lillie Harden’s real story turned out to be much more complicated — unsurprisingly, since life in poverty is complicated. But like the unnamed woman on that magazine cover, she had been flattened into a talking point about welfare. In the case of the unnamed woman, she was an example of urban indolence. In Harden’s case, she was an example of paternalistic resilience. But as always, these black women on welfare were presented a problem to be solved.
Premilla Nadasen, a historian at Barnard College, wrote in her book Rethinking The Welfare Rights Movement that arguments for cutting or restricting welfare relied less on data than it did on anecdote and racialized insinuation.
‘The Welfare Queen’
The most notorious example of a welfare recipient-turned-caricature was Linda Taylor, the subject of our most recent podcast episode. The media fascination around Taylor, a prolific con artist from Chicago’s South Side, gave rise to the term “welfare queen” in the 1970s. In his first failed run for president, Ronald Reagan held her up as an embodiment of welfare fraud and government waste. But her story, too, was much messier — and far darker — than the cartoon Reagan sketched in his stump speeches.
Josh Levin, our podcast guest and the author of a riveting new book about Taylor’s life, found that welfare fraud was the least of Taylor’s crimes, which were so varied and bizarre that he argues that she couldn’t reasonably be said to represent anything beyond herself. Reagan never explicitly referred to Taylor as a black woman — nodding to her as a Cadillac-driving welfare queen from Chicago did most of the heavy lifting there — but it turns out her racial identity was slippery, too. (Her mother was white and her father was suspected to be black and she identified, at various points, as Filipino, Latino, white, and black, depending on what her crimes and aliases required.) But it was her blackness that helped make the “welfare queen” trope stick.
A grim irony around these characterizations is that black women became the face of welfare even as the program had long been closed off to them. The program most of us refer to as “welfare” began as Aid to Dependent Children during the New Deal, and offered financial assistance to women whose husbands could not work, were not around, or were dead.
“When it was started the architects of that program assumed that the beneficiaries would be largely white women who were widows,” Premilla Nadasen, the historian, told me. Poor black women were often rejected when they applied for those benefits, and if they did receive them, they might be conditional. In the South, Nadasen said, officials would do things like cut off welfare aid to black women during cotton-picking season.
“It was the assumption that African-American women didn’t belong in the home and didn’t need to take care of their children, but they actually belonged in the labor force,” she said.
As more Black folks moved out of the South during the Great Migration and civil rights activists chipped away at discrimination in welfare policy, it became easier for poor Black women to get welfare. But even though the biggest share of welfare recipients were white (as it is today) the face the public associated with welfare became much browner. Backlash to welfare and aid programs like food stamps began to grow.
“By 1960, a growing percentage of recipients are African-American women and this [caused] alarm among policymakers, among people in the press, and ordinary white Americans,” Nadasen said.
Life magazine ran ominous stories about Negro migrants moving from the South to the North and getting on welfare assistance; city officials in declining industrial towns blamed these new recipients for their cities’ flagging economic fortunes and sometimes implemented new restrictions on their benefits. Nadasen said that it was this stew of contempt and punishment of black welfare recipients that presaged the “welfare queen” trope to come.
The Movement To Redefine Welfare
We’ve mostly forgotten, though, the black women on welfare who fought to change how people understood aid to the poor. Instead of a necessary evil, they maintained that it should be a guaranteed right, much more expansive and far less punitive to the people who needed it.
Johnnie Tillmon was one such woman. A divorced mother of six, Tillmon left Arkansas in 1959 to head to Los Angeles, but reluctantly applied for welfare rolls after she became too sick to keep working. She was humiliated after a welfare caseworker showed up at her home and rifled through her belongings to look for evidence of unreported income or a man in the home — either of which would have been grounds to cancel her welfare benefits — and so she began organizing the women in her Watts housing project to demand better treatment from their caseworkers.
As it happened, poor black women in other cities across the country were doing the same thing Tillmon was: marching, suing and staging sit-ins at local welfare office for increased benefits, for simple dignities like being addressed with honorifics, for the right to move from state to state while still maintaining their benefits.
By the mid-1960s, President Johnson’s war on poverty helped push those disparate welfare rights groups into a more coherent, organized movement. Felicia Kornbluh, a historian at the University of Vermont and the author of The Battle for Welfare Rights, said that while the mainstream women’s liberation movement was made up of younger, middle-class white women, the welfare rights movement looked decidedly different — mostly black but with organizers in Puerto Rican neighborhoods and on Native American reservations — and its participants brought with them a different set of concerns.
For example, welfare rights activists’ fight for reproductive and sexual freedom began with different premises than mainstream feminists: since the government could cancel or alter their benefits if they had more children or if a male partner moved in with them, they argued that the rules of welfare programs had to change so they could decide for themselves whether they wanted to have sex or have children. What’s more, some welfare mothers were forcibly sterilized to keep them from having more children, something college-educated mainstream feminists didn’t have to worry about.
Welfare rights organizers wanted to treat poverty as a women’s issue; they fought to make welfare a guaranteed right, and even called for a universal basic income. Their radical idea was that poor mothers should be provided the means to raise their children regardless of whether they worked or were looking for work. They wanted to live their lives on their own terms.
“It was a matter of equality, so that poor women and nonwhite women would have the same access to bonding with their kids and raising their kids, that middle class mothers had and white mothers had,” Kornbluh said.
By the late 1960s, the National Welfare Rights Organization, made up of hundreds of smaller local welfare rights groups, had nearly 25,000 dues-paying members, and Johnnie Tillmon was its chairperson.
“Some people have called it the largest black feminist organization in U.S. history,” Kornbluh said.
But their outspokenness and heterodox goals rankled white feminists and liberals, while their particular brand of feminism, centered on autonomy and determination for poor black mothers, rejected the masculine posture of the black power movement. Even their ostensible allies didn’t quite know what to make of them.
Meanwhile, working-class whites resented looking at images of these unabashed black welfare recipients pushing for more — more benefits, more dignity, more personal autonomy. By the mid-1970s, the welfare rights movement was in broad decline, racked by internal fights over its priorities and a growing public distaste for broad government help to the poor. Even some of the politicians who had previously been sympathetic to the movement saw which way the wind was blowing, and began distanced themselves from it. It was at this very moment that Linda Taylor, the scammer who became the “welfare queen,” stepped onto the national stage.
By the time Bill Clinton “ended welfare as we know it” in 1996, there was opposition from the left and black lawmakers, but not nearly enough to stop it from being passed. (Felicia Kornbluh, the historian at Vermont, told me that whiter, mainstream women’s groups had long been invested in the idea that women should work, and so didn’t put up too much of a fight.) That law’s effects are complicated and still debated to this day, and while it did little to reduce poverty, it has dramatically reduced the number of poor, unemployed people who receive welfare benefits.
The welfare rights movement that would have almost certainly opposed his bill was mostly gone. The National Welfare Rights Organization had disbanded in the mid-1970s, And Johnnie Tillmon, who argued that being treated with dignity shouldn’t be contingent on either her chastity or wage labor, died at the age of 69, the year before Clinton’s new welfare law was enacted. There was no one to make the argument that she and the thousands of women like her did: that poor women on welfare were the most equipped, by experience, to know how it needed to be reformed and to know whether they should seek employment outside of the home.
“I’m a black woman. I’m a poor woman. I’m a fat woman. I’m a middle-aged woman. And I’m on welfare,” Tillmon once wrote. “In this country, if you’re any one of those things you count less as a human being. If you’re all those things, you don’t count at all.”
When poor Black women like Tillmon enter the nation’s field of vision, they’re either flat statistics or inflated symbols. But more often, we don’t see them in the first place.
Sarah Groustra, a Brookline High School graduate, wrote a column in the school newspaper about period stigma last year. It led to Brookline voting to offer free pads and tampons in all town-owned restrooms.
When you walk into a public bathroom, you expect it to be stocked with toilet paper, hand soap and paper towels or a hand dryer.
But tampons and pads?
Brookline, Mass., wants to make menstrual products as routine as those other bathroom staples, and in May voted to become what it says is the first municipality in the United States to offer free tampons and pads in all of its town-owned restrooms, in places like the town hall, libraries and the recreation center. The schools are expected to follow suit.
Sarah Groustra is the one who got this all started. Last year, the then-senior wrote a column in the Brookline High School newspaper about the stigma around periods.
“Everyone had these strategies of how to hide their menstrual products,” she says. “When I changed after dance classes, I would zip tampons into my boots so that I wouldn’t have to take them out during class to go to the bathroom.”
Groustra called for an end to “shaming menstruation.”
“It shouldn’t be a brave, or sort of self-confident thing to be able to take a tampon out of your backpack and go to the bathroom,” she says.
Rebecca Stone, an elected member of Brookline’s legislative body, read the column. Even for the self-described feminist, it was an eye-opener.
“It talked about things having to do with period-shaming that … simply never occurred to me,” she says. “And of course once you start seeing it, it becomes more and more obvious what a fundamental issue this is for gender equity and for the dignity of women and female-bodied individuals.”
Stone got to work alongside Groustra and other Brookline students writing the proposal. Elected officials took it up and it passed unanimously on May 23.
Brookline has until July 2021 to install dispensers and stock them with product. It’s estimated to cost the town $40,000 upfront, and about $7,500 a year going forward for the products — what Stone calls a drop in the bucket of Brookline’s annual budget of more than $300 million.
But it’s worth it, advocates say, to end the stigma — and the strain — on those who have periods.
“In the United States, girls learn very early that this is their problem,” Stone says. “You are expected to keep it from other people, to be discreet. And so we tuck the tampons, and if we’re in trouble we try to find friends, and we talk about it quietly, and we use euphemisms, and we do not impose this on others.”
Restrooms in Brookline buildings will have menstrual products all restrooms — as not all people who have a period identify as female.
What the town is doing is part of Nancy Kramer’s dream. She’s the founder of Free the Tampons, a national organization she started in 2013 after talking about period equity for years.
“I’ve told my children that before I die, that I hope to change the social norm so that these menstrual supplies are freely accessible in the majority of public restrooms,” she says.
Part of getting there is equating tampons and pads with other bathroom supplies.
“My position all along has been tampons and pads are the equivalent to toilet paper,” she says. “And so wherever there’s toilet paper there should be tampons and pads.”
There are efforts like Brookline’s across Massachusetts and the country.
Boston’s City Council furthered a measure on Wednesday to hold a hearing on putting menstrual products in public schools, libraries and other municipal buildings. Students at a school in Cambridge, Mass., helped start a pilot program for students to begin receiving tampons and pads in school bathrooms.
Other statutes, like New York City’s, include prisons and homeless shelters — where people might not be able to afford tampons and pads.
In Massachusetts, a bill to provide free menstrual products in schools, prisons and jails and shelters is pending at the State House and has more than 70 co-sponsors.
Sasha Goodfriend, president of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women, says the Massachusetts bill focuses on access for the most marginalized population. But it’s also about taking away the shame around periods.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity to break away that stigma and those barriers around something that’s natural and really be able to be our full authentic selves in all the spaces,” she says. “And that means acknowledging that we are menstruating for about a week, every month, for decades, for many of us.”
To Brookline’s Stone, this is more than just an economic issue — it’s a public hygiene issue. Nearly all of the men she spoke with understood that, she says. Instead, it was some women who seemed uncomfortable.
“A few women were the ones who sort of said, ‘I don’t understand why this is a big deal. I dealt with it, why can’t everybody?’ ” she says.
Groustra, who sparked the conversation in Brookline, is now a student at Kenyon College in Ohio. She says it isn’t just about having the tampon there when you need it. It’s about an acknowledgment that periods happen, a signal of acceptance from your hometown.
“By having the community or that community space provide for you in that way,” she says, it sends a message that “we understand that this is something that happens and we want to be there for you and provide this for you.”