In recent years, global and local efforts have been made to eliminate the “tampon tax,” the viral nickname given to sales tax added to menstrual products such as tampons and pads. Amid much debate, there have been continued efforts to eliminate the tax. Arizona — with HB 2217 — is back for Round 2. If it passes, it would eliminate the sales tax not only on menstrual products but diapers as well.
Women have been silent around the issue of menstruation and tampon taxes previously, not because they did not care, but rather because society has conditioned them to feel as if this is something they have to deal with. Women are finally starting to question this.
With tampons and pads back in the public conversation and on the mind of public officials, it is important that the conversation about the issue of access to menstrual products progresses, and conversations about stigma and the human experience with menstruation begin.
The number of girls in the U.S. growing up in poverty is higher today than 10 years ago. In Tucson, 14.7 percent of families and 44.3 percent of households headed by a woman fall below the poverty line. When women and girls are barred from participating fully in society it impacts everyone. Lack of menstrual products keeps women home from work and girls home from school. But if a woman misses work, she then cannot make the money needed to purchase menstrual products. Additionally, lack of access to these products can lead to infections and other serious health effects.
The elimination of the sales tax is an issue of equity; there is no equivalent cost for men as there is for women and their period. In Arizona, candy and soda, which are not needed to maintain health, are tax exempt, while menstrual products — a basic necessity for women — are not. In fact, Arizona is 1 of 10 states that do not tax candy and soda but do tax tampons and pads.
The issue of access goes beyond that of tax; it is an issue of equity, access and breaking down social stigma. This is a normal experience that is not voluntary but has been treated as such. Women cannot choose when they bleed or how much or even how painful and uncomfortable the experience is. Despite this, periods are viewed as an issue that must be concealed and has been treated as anything but normal. Other difficulties surrounding menstruation, which include negative self-perception, negative media messaging, inadequate materials, embarrassment, confusion and physical discomfort.
Through my graduate program at the University of Arizona I am beginning to explore the idea of how menstruation is treated socially and politically, considering the barriers to access to menstrual products and what impact this has on women’s leadership development. What if the silence that is encouraged and the negative attitudes around menstruation have a greater, long-lasting impact past adolescence? Menstruation should not be a built-in barrier that keeps women from reaching their potential.
Let this column be the warm-up conversation about the barriers faced with menstruation. These conversations are just starting. As a proud menstruator of 12 years, it is about time for the sake of all who deal with or will ever have to deal with a period, that this life experience finally feels as normal as it is.