New efforts and laws are being made in hopes of ending period poverty among high school and college students, particularly in the United States.
Period poverty is a twofold issue. It addresses both the actual cost of period products, which are often too expensive for women and girls below the poverty line, and the fact that period products in many states are still subject to sales tax (unlike most other necessary medical devices).
This lack of affordable access hits girls particularly hard. The menstrual hygiene company Always, in its Always Confidence & Puberty Survey reveals, “that nearly one in five American girls have either left school early or missed school entirely because they did not have access to period products.”
The survey finds that missed time has lasting consequences. “At puberty, a girl’s confidence plummets, with the onset of menstruation marking the lowest moment for many girls,” the study says. “But the drop in confidence is so much worse for girls that lack access to period protection. It can force her to miss out on important confidence-building activities in the classroom, on the field, in extra-curricular school programs, and limit her potential far beyond puberty.
“While lack of access to period products is typically associated with girls in other countries, period poverty isn’t just someone else’s problem. It’s happening right here in the United States.”
In Some States, Laws Require Products in High Schools
Some states are already ahead of the curve when it comes to stocking schools with products. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Women’s Opportunity Agenda into law July 1, 2018. Part of that legislation requires public middle and high schools to supply products (not just limited to pads and tampons). It’s up to the nurses and medical directors in each district to determine what their schools need.
In California, AB 10 was passed in 2017. This law requires all Title 1 public schools (grades 6-12) stock half their bathrooms with products. Schools are reimbursed by the state for the cost. Other states, like Illinois, have followed suit.
More States are Ending the Period Product Sales Tax
The latest state to end the period product tax is California. On May 7, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom approved the change through a budget revision.
Previously, women in California paid more than $20 million annually in taxes on tampons, sanitary napkins, and menstrual cups, paying on average $7 a month for 40 years of their lives. While California law exempted health items like walkers, medical identification tags, and prescription medication, including Viagra. Menstrual health products were not tax-exempt in California, even though they’re deemed medical necessities by the Federal Drug Administration.
The law change is mostly due to efforts by Assemblymember Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), also known as the “Tampon Queen.” Garcia’s 2016 bill AB 1561 was passed almost unanimously in the legislature, only to be vetoed by then governor Jerry Brown, who cited loss of revenue as a reason for refusal. Earlier this year, Garcia tried again, this time successfully, through letters to Newsom, the Assembly and Senate Budget Committees. She highlighted the inequities the tax imposed and requested its removal through a budget act.
“I applaud the Governor’s actions today in finally sending a message that our bodies are not a luxury,” Garcia said on her website. “Today, California joins eleven other states by removing these necessities from being charged a sales tax. Today, we finally moved California into an era with a gender neutral tax code.”
There are Efforts on the National Level
One organization working at both the grassroots and national level is PERIOD.org. Co-founded in 2014 by two then high school students, Nadya Okamoto and Vincent Forand. PERIOD is a non-profit with over 300 chapters serving individual communities.
The chapters practice what PERIOD terms its three pillars: service, education, and advocacy. This means everything from distributing period products to people in need, to educating communities about the subject of period poverty. Some chapters host fundraisers; some are run by high school and university students.
PERIOD also teamed up with period product company Thinx to create United for Access, a campaign with a federal focus. United for Access is circulating a petition directed at the Department of Education to demand a national effort to stock schools with products. The campaign also sent a letter with the same request to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
There’s also a petition circulating through PERIOD, with the same goals directed at the Department of Education. Currently, it’s about halfway to its 100,000 signature goal. Again addressing Secretary DeVos, it’s unclear whether the current administration will view period products in schools as a priority; it hasn’t thus far.
According to Okamoto, PERIOD will continue all its efforts for the foreseeable future — the most powerful part of those awareness efforts being its digital channels — in order to end period poverty through a combination of grassroots and brand sponsorship.
“With our educational programs, our strategic plan now includes a focus on digital content as a way to change the pattern of how people think, talk, and learn about periods, “ Okamoto told Parentology. “Our education goal is to redefine the culture around periods and get people to talk about them, and so we need to build a strategy and story behind how we do that, one way being through a stronger and more continuous media campaign.”
“Lastly, our fastest-growing pillar in the strategic plan is advocacy – which is where our policy efforts are outlined. The two goals are raising awareness about period poverty at the national level with a unified effort to also mobilize chapters on the ground, and to fight period poverty in schools.”