The office supply store in the United States Capitol dedicated to the House of Representatives will soon begin stocking menstrual products, which House lawmakers can pay for with their Members' Representational Allowance.
The decision came in a Monday night letter, where, California Representative Zoe Lofgren, the chair of the House Administration Committee—the body responsible with overseeing the daily operations of the House of Representatives—ordered that the menstrual products be made "widely available" throughout the Capitol. Though she had already taken measures to make sure the women's restrooms off the House floor were stocked, she wrote that it was crucial that the office supply store offer the products as well, should representatives also want to supply them to their staff or constituents.
Lofgren's letter was a response to a joint request from Florida Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz and New York Representatives Sean Patrick Maloney and Grace Meng to clarify whether or not members of Congress were permitted to use their Members' Representational Allowance—a federal allowance with strict rules regarding how it may be spent—to pay for tampons.
“I strongly support and admire my colleagues’ goal and am directing the finance office to approve use of MRA funds for the purchase of menstrual products,” Lofgren wrote.
According to Roll Call, the House Administration Committee had denied a request from Maloney to use his MRA to purchase tampons for his office just last summer, and though he was later granted permission to do so, the rules surrounding the practice remained hazy.
On Monday, Maloney thanked Lofgren for taking an official stance on the issue.
“Like I said repeatedly last year, saying tampons are superfluous but other hygiene products like hand sanitizer and tissues are totally necessary reinforces the idea that our rules are written by men, for men, and that women are merely second-class citizens on Capitol Hill,” Maloney said in a statement. "Thanks to Chairperson Lofgren’s leadership, policies on Capitol Hill are finally catching on to the fact that women work here."
The change is just one of many to take shape in the House of Representatives after the election of more women lawmakers. In 2007, when Nancy Pelosi became the first woman to win House Speaker, she installed the House's first lactation room. In 2011, women in Congress got their own bathroom near the speaker's office (then-House Speaker John Boehner). “The first woman came to Congress in 1917," Virgin Islands Representative Donna Christian- Christensen tweeted at the time. "We are finally getting a ladies restroom near the floor of the House.”
"Saying tampons are superfluous but other hygiene products like hand sanitizer and tissues are totally necessary reinforces the idea that our rules are written by men, for men, and that women are merely second-class citizens on Capitol Hill"
Two years later, the Senate doubled the size of the women's bathroom after the record number of women senators elected in 2012 resulted in a "traffic jam."
"For the first time, we had a traffic jam in the women's senator's bathroom," Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar told the Atlantic. "There were five women in there. There's only two stalls!"
More recently, Congress changed a longstanding rule barring children from the Senate floor to accommodate Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth, who became the first senator to give birth while in office last year, and another rule which would have prohibited Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar from wearing a headscarf on the House floor.
In November, after the election of a record number of women to Congress, former Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin told Broadly it's likely the rules will continue to change as the country's governing body becomes more diverse.
"I think it’s a good thing that the two houses of Congress are becoming more diverse," Frumin said. "I think the rules of any legislative body [should] reflect the culture in that body. And the culture to a certain extent is a blend between history—what’s happened in the past—and how the country is developing into the future."