As a society, we don’t talk about periods. Menstruators have been conditioned to keep that aspect of their lives under wraps, out of the public sphere. By not talking about periods, we reinforce the notion that periods are something that menstruators should be ashamed of and hide, rather than a natural biological function. This silence also prevents the discussion around period poverty, which is defined as the inability to access menstrual products when needed, typically due to financial barriers.
Someone may have absolutely no choice but to use cardboard, newspaper or socks in place of pads and tampons or to wear pads and tampons for an extended period of time to stretch out a supply.
Last fall, we helped organize the first-ever #NationalPeriodDay to bring awareness to the often-ignored issue of period poverty. Collectively, PERIOD hosted 60 rallies in 50 states and in four countries. United with activists, elected officials, menstrual hygiene companies and other stakeholders, our demands were twofold: to end period poverty by extending access to free period products in all schools, shelters and prisons, and to eliminate the tampon tax that’s still on the books in 31 states, Washington included.
While we’ve made significant progress, our work is ongoing. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro, Andrew Yang and Ilhan Omar have all endorsed what we and our fellow student activists know — that all over the world, people with periods endure educational barriers, social limitations and economic challenges because of a basic biological function. Ending period poverty is not only a gender equity issue; it is also an economic issue and a social justice issue impacting menstruators of all backgrounds.
That is why here in Washington state we intend to do something about period poverty and access to menstrual hygiene products. We are calling on Washington’s Legislature to pass SB5147 and SB5206, which will provide a sales and use tax exemption for menstrual hygiene products. We have an opportunity to destigmatize periods and provide for more equitable access to necessary products by repealing this tax. Periods are not a luxury, and should not be taxed like they are.
According to the Office of Financial Management, 14.3 percent of Washingtonians ages 0-17 and 10.6 percent of Washingtonians ages 18-64 live below the poverty line. These individuals who menstruate are extremely vulnerable to the tax on menstrual products, which creates a range of serious consequences. A new national study, State of the Period, commissioned by Thinx and PERIOD, found that a staggering one in five menstruating teens have struggled to afford period products or were unable to purchase them at all. An added tax burden on necessary hygiene products forces many to use menstrual products longer than the recommended six to eight hours. This places them at an increased risk of potentially fatal health issues, such as Toxic Shock Syndrome, and prevents menstruators from functioning to their highest potential, putting them at a disadvantage at school and work.
With SB5147 and SB5206, Washington state senators have a choice: They can demonstrate to their constituents that they are committed to the health and safety of all Washingtonians or continue to reinforce the stigma surrounding periods by taxing more than half of its residents for a normal, biological function, putting many in a disadvantaged position in health and participation in daily life.
Ending the tax on menstrual products is just the first step toward ending period poverty. Long-term, we must commit to providing free access to menstrual products in schools, homeless shelters, prisons and public spaces, because no menstruator should be forced to jeopardize their health because of an economic need.
As a united front of activists and other stakeholders, we are challenging our communities and our representatives to not only talk about periods openly and honestly but to enact local policies that uplift and support all bodies. Sign our petition at this web address to show your support for the cause: actionnetwork.org/petitions/wa-tampon-tax-repeal.
Call on the Washington Legislature with us to eliminate the tax on menstrual products and support the health of all constituents. Together, we can end period poverty and crush the stigma around menstruation.
Arumilli is a high school student from Mukilteo; Sabha is a graduate student at the University of Washington; Zhang is a high school student from Mukilteo.
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