My Story: Asking Legislators to Provide Menstrual Products in Prison

By Saniya Ghanoui —

KH discusses her experience of passing a menstrual products bill that would benefit incarcerated women.


OBOS Today: And that’s incredibly unfortunate, and um, I love that I think that’s amazing that you were able to pass this bill and everything and could you elaborate on like that experience like how it was for you? 

KH: Yeah, it was it wasn’t my first bill, I mean I’ve did other bills before this, so I’ve been in this space for a very long time, this advocacy, and you know, legislative space for a while. I’m a big policy wonk. But what I really, what was really telling for me was, you know, I’m also a community organizer at heart, so I would, we did these town forums. And so, we, in addition to the video that I did on YouTube, and I did it for a student group who was really interested in this issue. But also, I’ve made a homemade tampon and when I would go to talk, I would hold it up, and I would say, “Would you want your sister, your mother, your daughter, would you, want to put this up inside your body?” And it was, it was like watching, I would love, and I did it specifically for the shock value. Because then people couldn’t stop staring at it. And then they would come up and they’d want to touch it, like this is what people have to do?  

When I was in Annapolis, and I was talking to legislators about passing this bill, they were incredulous. They were like, “Kim, please, don’t tell me that this is a problem,” well yeah, it’s a problem. We have the warden of our only women state prison calling us and saying, “You know, we need sanitary pads, we need menstrual hygiene products, we can’t get them.” Everywhere that I spoke for a year, um, my honorarium was always, do a menstrual hygiene product, I need pads, and we were taking carloads of pads up to our women’s prison, so that they have them to give. That’s not the responsibility of the community, that’s not the responsibility of the warden to reach out and say to a community group, “Hey we need this”. Um and so, it was, it was both. In hindsight it was kind of interesting to watch people’s reaction to seeing this homemade tampon that I’m holding up, and literally, I would do this every, like, it would swing, so people could see it. And then they, they, couldn’t not see it anymore, right? I did the same thing in a bill hearing like, I held it up, and then placed it on my hearing table so that the legislators were looking at this. So that they would understand what individuals were having to go through who were incarcerated in our, in our prisons and jails.  

OBOS Today: And that’s a big statement too. To just have it right there.  

KH: Yeah, I mean it is. It, it was jarring, and I loved watching people’s reactions. Um, you know, it was, it, in hindsight, it was hysterical to see people’s reactions, because they weren’t thinking about it. And again, women are correctional afterthoughts, and so our needs are correctional afterthoughts and so for elected officials to say, “Kim, please, this can’t be a problem,” yeah, it’s a problem and um— 

OBOS Today: Were you are running into a lot of these problems, specifically with men just not understanding? 

KH: Yeah well, I don’t know that they didn’t understand. I think it was more like, and I used to apologize to any man that was in my, in any presentation I did, “I’m sorry this is squishy, but get over it,” is really what I would say, because again, they’ve, but they recognize that this was a normal bodily function. In their mind, it was just, why aren’t we doing this, so I never had anybody, you know, belittle what we were trying to do, or it was just like, “No, we have to fix this” which I was grateful for, but I think part of that is also driven by the fact that we did a very strong outreach to educate the community that this is a problem. People forget that 95% of the people that we incarcerate come home. And I always say, “What we do to them, and what we don’t do for, and with them, they bring back to our community,” I brought back toxic shock syndrome because of this.