Up until last week, female inmates at Arizona correctional facilities were only allowed 12 free sanitary pads a month. If an inmate needed additional feminine hygiene products, she would have to pay out of pocket, saving up her ¢15-an-hour wages to buy a 16-pack of pads at $3.20.
Early this February, Athena Salman, a Democratic member of the Arizona House of Representatives, introduced a bill meant to combat this issue. House Bill 2222 aims to provide unlimited feminine hygiene products at no additional cost to Arizona inmates. “This issue speaks to the basic dignity of being a woman,” Salman said. “By denying women additional pads and no free tampons, that is violating a woman’s dignity and that’s fundamentally wrong.”
On Feb 5, the bill passed through the all-male Military, Veterans and Regulatory Affairs Committee with a 5-4 vote. To continue, however, the bill still had to go through the Rules committee. Here, Salman’s efforts met a roadblock. The Arizona Department of Corrections was in the process of revising its policies during the time of Bill 2222’s consideration. Because of these revisions, the House of Representatives Republican Caucasus Spokesman Matthew Specht said the bill would be “redundant,” urging Republican Arizona Rep. T.J. Shope to stall the bill.
In response to Shope’s stall, women in Arizona took to Twitter with the #LetItFlow movement. Participants of the campaign posted pictures of letters they wrote to Shope concerning the bill. They often enclosed tampons, pads, and even money in these letters, asking Shope to forwards these materials as donations to female inmates.
Salman, in response to the stall, commented: “We haven’t seen the policy so it’s inappropriate for Rep. Shope to hold the bill without talking to the stakeholders, including the women who were formerly incarcerated and the attorney who is monitoring the women’s prison.”
After a flood of letters, posts hashtagged #LetItFlow, and pressure from Salman, the DOC released their policy updates on Tuesday, Feb 13. The revisions included an increase of available sanitary pads from 12 to 36 upon the inmate’s request. Salman deemed this “welcome news” but emphasized that Bill 2222 is still needed to ensure that these changes remain in place under shifting DOC leadership. “We will also remain vigilant to make sure it’s implemented as promised, with no unnecessary barriers to women receiving any products they need,” she said.
Online, #LetItFlow continues to echo Salman’s sentiment. On that day of the policy release, one twitter user posted: “That’s great but what kept [the DOC] from fixing this before? What will keep them from returning to cruel and inhumane policy? A statute is clearly needed to protect the human rights, dignity and personal hygiene of our sisters in prison.”
Will Shope take the advice of these women to heart? Whether or not the Rules committee sees this bill to fruition, the political activism of both Salman and her advocates online is certainly commendable. Keep fighting the good fight and #LetItFlow.