A Period is Not a Luxury
an op-ed by Allison Li
Dear Asian Youth,
On November 24th, USA Today published an article detailing the Scottish parliament’s unanimous decision to pass the Period Products (Free Provision) Bill. This means that there is “a legal obligation for the government to ensure sanitary products are free and accessible for all who menstruate, including tampons and pads in public facilities nationwide”. It is thought that the bill would cost around $32 million and be a counteraction to “period poverty”- a phenomenon describing the ostracization of those who menstruate from many aspects of life, including cultural shaming to inaccessibility issues.
In stark contrast, the US faces a lack of accessibility to period products, leading to pushes towards reform of what is known as the “tampon tax”. The “tampon tax” is a popular reference to feminine hygiene products having added taxes or sales taxes, unlike tax exemptions granted to other products considered basic necessities. Cristina Garcia, an assemblywoman from California, noted in a Washington Post article how “women in California pay about $7 per month for 40 years of tampons and sanitary napkins”.This means there is around $20 million dollars annually paid in taxes, and in total, around $150 billion dollars nationally.
So far, this tax still exists in 33 states, despite bills and legislatures to counteract it. Besides monetary value, the inequality in the issue stands in the patriarchal nature of the US’s legislation. Before the momentous case of Roe v. Wade, it was a states’ right to determine reproductive services access policies. Those laws, that have since been ineffective, were put in place to restrict women’s reproductive access from abortion clinics to birth control. This is no exception. The tampon tax exclusively affects those who menstruate, primarily women. If men menstruated as well, the tampon tax would cease to exist.
The core argument is that menstruation is not a choice. Why should some be put at a disadvantage for experiencing a natural, uncontrollable process? On top of that, around the world, on average, men earn more than women, putting those who do not have the resources- access, sanitization, or monetary compensation- more vulnerable to poverty and economic hardship. If feminine hygiene products aren’t considered a basic necessity, they certainly aren’t considered a luxury. In fact, 1 in every 5 teens are unable to afford menstrual products in the US. This can result in increased stress, missed class time, risks of infection, and other repercussions. It has become not only an issue of preference, but one of health for half the world’s population.
As an alternative, many have resorted to reusable, but less common, products to save money in the long term. Menstrual cups and reusable cloth pads are available, but require constant maintenance and cleaning to avoid risk. At its core, the issue lies within the accessibility of menstrual products and their contrasting necessity. America has made change, but we certainly have a long way to go.
- Allison Li