Today’s date traditionally comes with some dread – the deadline for dealing with the previous year’s tax returns, when you may have to write a check to the government. One sliver of a silver lining to pandemic life? You can put off 2020 tax day until July. But you still pay taxes every day, and we’re taking April 15th as an opportunity to talk about a seriously unfair one: The tampon tax, and how people with periods are put at a financial disadvantage.
We turned to the experts to learn about menstrual inequity, period poverty, and what we can do to make change. Here Laura Blackburn, Director of Giveback at Thinx, shares what every menstruating person should know, and how we can all fight back.
What is the “tampon tax”?
The “tampon tax” refers to the sales tax that states charge for menstrual hygiene products such as pads, tampons, and menstrual cups. Also referred to as a “pink tax,” these added costs for people with periods add up — and, as activists have argued, amount to a form of state-sanctioned discrimination against women and people with periods.
Unlike the tax exemption status granted to other products considered basic necessities, such as food and prescription medication like Viagra, 31 states classify menstrual hygiene products as “luxury items,” therefore subject to sales tax.
How much money could that add up to over a menstruating life?
According to research, people spend up to $6,360 on menstrual products in their lifetime. That’s A LOT (and an unavoidable cost!), especially when you factor in that women, especially women of color, are already paid less than men to begin with.
Can menstrual products be paid for with a FSA or HSA?
In a very exciting (and unexpected) move, Congress tackled menstrual equity as part of their coronavirus relief package passed in March. Under the CARES Act, people can now pay for pads, tampons, menstrual cups, sponges, and liners with a flexible spending account (FSA) and health saving account (HSA).
Prior to this change, the IRS classified menstrual hygiene products as “general health products.” This classification meant that in the eyes of the IRS these products didn’t treat a specific medical condition — so while products like Rogaine and Viagra were qualified expenses, pads and tampons were not. This change in policy is huge and one that advocates have fought for years to include.
We’ve heard that lack of access to menstrual products can keep girls out of school globally, but is that a problem here in the US?
While we often hear about period poverty in countries outside of the US, it’s also a widespread issue facing young people, people experiencing homelessness, and people who are incarcerated and in shelters here. A study we conducted last year with the nonprofit organization PERIOD found that 84% of US students have missed school, or know someone who has missed school over the lack of access to period products; 61% of students have worn a tampon or pad longer than is safe because they did not have adequate access to replacement. Economic factors play a role in perpetuating this issue, but most significantly, our schools, prisons and jails, shelter, and public spaces are not consistently stocked with freely and easily accessible period products. It’s also an issue that plays out at a systemic level — our elected officials and federal government (as well as state and municipal governments) have yet to devise a plan that acknowledges period poverty and gender equity as pressing public health issues.
Is it also because stigma around periods makes students reluctant to speak up?
Stigma and embarrassment are a symptom of period poverty, not a cause. In 2018, we released a poll of 1,500 women and 500 men from across the country, which found that 58 percent of women have felt a sense of embarrassment simply because they were on their period.
This is not rocket science. If our society would start discussing this issue more regularly, some of that shame and stigma would dissipate, making the public discourse on period poverty less taboo.
What are the effects of menstrual inequity and what solution are you advocating for?
Menstrual inequity means gender inequity. Full stop. When women, girls, and people with periods are forced to stay home from school, work or otherwise because of their period we are denying educational and professional opportunities to half the population. This is a detriment to everyone, not just women. When women are left or forced out, the rest of society misses out on what we have to offer, too.
Are there other types of pink taxes?
The “pink tax” applies across the board to a ton of products marketed to women and girls, including razors, deodorant, clothing, body wash, toys and even pens. The irony is simply maddening. People of all genders use these products, yet the “female” versions are often more expensive. Again, it’s a profoundly backward and inequitable practice in a society that already pays women less than men.
What can people do to end the pink tax and increase menstrual equity?
Look up legislation to eliminate the tampon tax moving in your state. If there happens to be a particular piece of legislation, write a letter to the elected officials in your state advocating for that law and explain why they should, too. If not, write your state elected officials explaining why your state needs to draft a bill eliminating the tampon tax, mirroring states like California, New York, Florida, Nevada, Minnesota, Illinois, New Jersey, etc.
While our end goal is to get rid of the tampon/pink tax across our entire country, the best place to start is in your community. If you’re looking to get more involved in the menstrual equity movement, you can start volunteering with organizations like PERIOD and advocating for free menstrual products in public spaces, schools, prisons and homeless shelters in your community. You can also sign our petition, which is calling on presidential candidates to develop more inclusive menstrual equity policy.
About Thinx Inc.:
The Thinx Inc. family of brands—Thinx, Thinx (BTWN), and Speax—are on a mission to empower every body through innovative solutions and social change. From first periods to postmenopause, Thinx Inc. provides environmentally sustainable solutions to menstruation and bladder leaks, and confronts the taboos that surround them.
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