By Mishal Charania
On Nov. 15, 2021, Ann Arbor’s city council approved adding chapter 74 to title VI of the city code, making it required by law for public restrooms to provide feminine products.
Businesses and organizations found in violation of this ordinance will be fined $100 starting January 1, 2022. According to the ordinance approval notice, a public restroom is defined as “a public toilet facility that is required by the Michigan Plumbing Code or other applicable law to be made available to customers, patrons, visitors, employees, licensees, invitees, students, or other members of the public.”
During the discussion of the potential ordinance, Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor emphasized that Ann Arbor, and society as a whole, has to meet the needs with menstrual products in public bathrooms, likening the need for these products to the need of toilet paper, towels, and soap in restrooms.
“If you have a public restroom there will be people, of course, using the toilet and there should be toilet paper there for all,” Taylor said. “If you have a public restroom, there will be people who want to wash their hands and there should be soap and paper towels available for all. And if you have a public restroom, there are going to be people who menstruate, and there should be tampons and pads available for all. These products support basic human needs and it is long past time that we as a society acknowledge and respond to that reality.”
Council members Travis Radina, Erica Briggs, Kathy Griswold, Ali Ramlawi, Jeff Hayner, and Linh Song spoke in support of the ordinance.
“I appreciate the need to end period poverty and also that recognition that there is inequity that we have learned to live with,” Briggs said. “I am glad to know that our community is going to be leading this forward.”
Additionally, the council discussed a resolution to allow religious institutions and places of worship whose beliefs, practices, or observances conflict with the ordinance to be exempted from the requirement.
“Different cultures, different religions treat menstruation differently and there are sometimes religious preferences for one type [of product] over another,” Washtenaw County Assistant Prosecutor John Reiser stated. “It might be against their religion to provide one type [of product] or the other so the amendment allows the free exercise of religion while still mandating the law generally.”
In the Nov. 15 public hearing on the amendment, two Washtenaw county residents spoke in favor of adding chapter 74 to Ann Arbor’s Title XI. The first commentator noted, “People of all ages, genders, races, and backgrounds can struggle to afford these [menstrual] products, especially in a period of prolonged instability like the pandemic has caused.”
Some organizations in the community including Ann Arbor District Library and Ann Arbor Public Schools have already implemented the legislation to an extent. The library has been providing free menstrual products since the past summer and is currently working to include menstrual products in all bathrooms, not just female-marked ones.
“The Library and its Board had discussed this quite some time ago because it’s the right thing to do,” AADL communications and marketing manager Rich Retyi said. “Most of our women’s restrooms had free dispensers when the library reopened to the public in July. All restrooms would have had them if not for vendor shortages and logistics delays.”
Over the winter vacation, AAPS will be implementing menstrual product dispensers into all bathrooms. These products are being paid for by the 2018 Building and Site bond funds.
“We are proud to support the city of Ann Arbor Sanitation Supply Ordinance. Providing these products to support our students and staff is the right thing to do,” AAPS executive director of student and school safety Liz Margolis said. “We have received positive comments from staff and families about our plan to follow the city ordinance and have the menstrual products available for free in the schools.”