Activism Health

Menstrual Equity Movement Spotlights Period Inequality

The movement known as menstrual or period equity aims to eliminate taxes on menstrual products as well as provide supplies to people who need the products the most, such as in homeless shelters, schools, and prisons. Proponents of menstrual equity point to challenges facing people who are unable to access menstrual supplies, some of which include being unable to attend work or school, or health issues like infection or toxic shock syndrome.

“A human being should not have to choose between food and tampons,” said Geoff Davis, volunteer executive director of Period Kits, who added he has heard stories of women putting newspaper, cotton balls or T-shirts in their underwear because they could not afford menstrual products. Period Kits is a non-profit in Colorado that supplies a bag of tampons and pads that will last three months to people in need.

Out of the 50 states in the United States, only 13 in addition to the District of Columbia do not tax menstrual supplies. Introduced by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) last March, U.S. House Bill HR 1882 called for more affordability and availability for menstrual supplies, but the bill remains in committee.

“Period poverty,” or insufficient supplies during one’s menstrual cycle, is more well-known in developing countries, but it exists in the United States as well. Federal safety-net programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, do not provide tampons or pads. Those who argue against repeal of the tampon tax point to the loss in revenue for states that would occur.

“Menstruation is not out in the public. It’s covered up. We don’t talk about it a lot,” Anne Sebert Kuhlmann, associate professor at St. Louis University’s College for Public Health and Social Justice, said. “It hasn’t entered our conversation about basic needs.” Kuhlmann, one of the first to quantify period poverty in the United States, discovered that at some point in 2017 nearly two-thirds of low-income women were unable to afford period supplies.

Many advocates for repealing the tampon tax ask why tampons are taxed yet Viagra is not. “The tampon tax amounts to sex-based discrimination,” said Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, a co-founder of the nonprofit Period Equity, which is leading a campaign to eliminate the tax.

Sources: Kaiser Health News, 3/12/20; New York Times, 7/12/19.

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