Housing insecurity, language access for essential information and services, Medicaid coverage for doula services, and free menstrual products topped the long list of concerns women around the commonwealth brought to the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women’s regional meetings. The group held a virtual briefing about those forums on Thursday.

“Over the past year, our hearings have highlighted concerns regarding disparities in access to essential resources, highlighted instances of domestic violence, and highlighted instances of inadequate representation in policy and decision-making spaces,” said Shaitia Spruell, the commission’s executive director. “What we hear is what we take on.”

The Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women has 19 volunteer members who are appointed by the governor, the Senate President, the speaker of the House, and the Caucus of Women Legislators. The commission is tasked with reviewing the status of women in Massachusetts, and offering policy recommendations to improve access to equality. Here are four issues they urge state lawmakers to address.

Language access

Commission members said women raised concerns about accessing healthcare, childcare, and education materials in languages other than English.

Divya Chaturvedi, vice chair of the commission’s finance committee, says nearly 1 in 10 Massachusetts residents are limited in English speaking. She said it’s a problem that many state agencies provide services and information only in English.

Chaturvedi recounted how she helped someone experiencing domestic violence who was not English-speaking navigate housing services she was eligible for.

“We could not access that resource for many months, wasting a lot of her time. And she remained in an unsafe condition because of this language barrier,” she said.

The commission is reviewing proposed legislation that would require public agencies offer interpretation services and translate vital documents.

Free menstrual products

Low-income individuals often experience what is called “period poverty” due to the struggle to access expensive menstrual pads, tampons and other products. Commissioner Jean Fox spoke in support of legislation that would provide free menstrual products in Massachusetts prisons, homeless shelters and public schools.

She said in her years as a Bristol county commissioner, she worked closely with several organizations that advocate for girls and women.

“It became very clear early on that girls weren’t going to school when they were on their period. Why is that? Well, because not every school had products for them,” she said.

Fifty-six percent of school nurses in Massachusetts reported observing students missing class to obtain menstrual products, according to the Massachusetts Menstrual Equity Coalition.


The commission heard from women worried about housing, and how issues of cost and scarcity could be addressed.

“Our key issues that we heard was that we need rent stabilization. Rent control was the term that was used,” said Mary-dith Tuitt, commission vice chair. “Eviction protections. Affordable housing. And not just affordable, but really housing that we can afford to live in, because sometimes the term is used loosely.”

Tuitt said the commission is “following” several pieces of legislation that could resolve those issues, like an act enabling local options for tenant protections, which would life the statewide ban on rent control and provide municipalities with options for creating rent stabilization and other eviction protections. Other pieces of legislation they’re monitoring focuses on evictions. One would create a process to seal fault evictions three years after the eviction takes place, and to seal no-fault evictions immediately. Another proposal would guarantee right to counsel.

Doula service insurance coverage

Cape Cod and Islands commissioner and doula Sunny Daily spoke in support of a law that would improve health insurance coverage for doula services.

The proposed bill would ensure that doula services are covered by both Medicare and MassHealth. It would also create a registry of doulas in order to regulate reimbursements.

This bill will also create a commission made up of doulas and members of communities with worse maternal health outcomes, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, those dependent on MassHealth, and those who have experienced maternal or sexual trauma. The bill was first filed in 2019, and is in its third consecutive session.

Daily said she is the only doula on Nantucket.

“I do not represent all cultures or languages, on islands and being able to have a more representative community of people, both accessing services and providing services, would just make a world of difference,” she said.

Daily said doulas can help in improving health outcomes, like reducing the length of labor, reduction of cesarean birth rates, the use of pain medications and epidurals.