This Week In Women: Things Are Sort Of Improving For Ladies!
Being a woman can be rough: you have to deal with periods (and sometimes not being able to afford being on your period), pregnancy (and sometimes not being able to terminate unwanted pregnancies), and a whole host of bodily issues. If that’s not bad enough, you also have to deal with sexist, demeaning advertisements that show you as little more than a pair of disembodied boobs. Sound familiar? Luckily, NYC politicians, Irish activists, and advertising corporations are working to change all of that. Get ready for This Week In Women: Things Are Improving edition!
NYC Fights for Menstrual Equity
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: periods are expensive. Thankfully, New York is leading the fight towards menstrual equity: New York State already eliminated the tampon tax earlier this year, and now NYC is passing legislation to make sure everyone has access to menstrual hygiene products. This Tuesday, the New York City Council unanimously passed a bundle of bills requiring the city to provide free menstrual hygiene products—pads and tampons—in public schools, prisons, and homeless shelters. The bills, sponsored by Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, make New York the first U.S. city to pass this necessary legislation.
Beginning this October, the city will install free dispensers in 800 public schools, supply $540,000 worth of pads and tampons annually to the city’s homeless shelters, and ensure that women in prisons—which, in theory, are already required to provide free pads to inmates—have enough supplies to meet demand, City Lab reports.
Lack of sanitary products prevents girls from attending school. NYC just made them free in schools, shelters & prisons. #menstruationmatters
— Jo Handelsman (@Jo44) June 21, 2016
Low-income, homeless, and imprisoned women and girls currently have ridiculously low access to menstrual hygiene products, especially tampons. In prisons, inmates who want anything other than generic pads are required to buy them at the commissary. It turns out that the new season of Orange is the New Black was pretty spot-on when it comes to periods.
The city’s shelters and food banks rarely receive donations of these necessary products—partially due to our society’s reluctance to talk about periods—meaning homeless and low-income women often have to go without them. The problem isn’t just about access to pads and tampons, but also about the stigma surrounding menstruation.
— NYC Council (@NYCCouncil) June 21, 2016
“Providing menstrual hygiene products privately, immediately and for free is also about sending a body-positive message by not perpetuating shame and humiliation, and acknowledging that women’s bodies, even those of women serving time in prison, deserve some dignity during their periods,” Ferreras-Copeland, who sponsored the bill requiring menstrual products in public schools, said in a statement.
A Woman’s Right to Drone
Pro-choice activists across the pond used a drone to deliver abortion pills to women in Northern Ireland, where access to abortions remains heavily limited. Although abortion is legal in the UK during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, the Abortion Act of 1967 does not extend to Northern Ireland, forcing many women to travel long distances for medical care. The event was organized by various pro-choice groups: Alliance for Choice, Rosa, Labour Alternative, and Women on Waves, the Guardian reports.
“The law is archaic,” Lucy Simpson, a Belfast resident who took one of the pills, told the Guardian. “We are governed in Northern Ireland by an act which is dated 1861, which is in the dark ages, it’s like when dinosaurs were on earth. We think it should be changed radically, and we really can’t wait any longer.”
Although Simpson was being a bit hyperbolic, she does have a point. In Northern Ireland, the maximum penalty for “administering a drug to induce miscarriage” is life in prison. The abortion pills, Mifepristone and Misoprostol, are legal in the rest of the UK, yet remain virtually inaccessible to women in Northern Ireland who do not have the time or resources to travel.
— Women on Web (@abortionpil) June 21, 2016
Meanwhile, in the United States, we’re awaiting a Supreme Court decision on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt—depending on the Court’s decision, American women’s access to abortion and other women’s health services could be drastically reduced. Maybe we should look into abortion drones, too.
A Farewell to Axe
Let’s end with some good news. Last week, President Obama compared US workplace policies to Mad Men, everyone’s favorite sexist, racist period drama. Lest we forget, Sterling Cooper wasn’t just dominated by men—it was dominated by men whose sexist and outdated perceptions of women shaped the ads they created.
This week, advertising giant Unilever, which handles more than 400 brands including Ben & Jerry’s, Dove, and Axe, has pledged to remove sexist stereotypes from its ads.
“If we looked at role, personality, and appearance, then [the ads] weren’t representing women as they are today,” Unilever’s CMO Keith Weed told the BBC. “Some of the imagery might have been current years ago, but it certainly wasn’t today.”
The firm’s new campaign, called Unstereotype, is the result of two years of intense research. According to Unilever’s findings, 90% of women feel as if they were presented as sex symbols; 30% said they showed women as they were perceived by men.
You don’t say.
Stay tuned to Milk for more of This Week in Women, and catch up on previous installments here.
Images via Women on Waves, Unilever, Orange is the New Black.