Written by: Maya Galinsky
What to look out for in the upcoming bloody New Years!
These past few years have been quite impactful in the lens of menstrual rights. Awareness has spiked, and people are speaking up. From period poverty and pink tax to legislative action, the world is shifting toward a menstrual just one.
The “pink tax” is the practice of charging different prices for men and women for similar goods. Examples of this are toys, razors, or any product that costs more for the “feminine version” despite being almost 1:1 to the same merchandise by the same brand but marketed for men. The American Political Science Review (Betz et al., 2021) conducted a study measuring 20 years of analyses on taxes over men’s and women’s apparel in 167 countries. Their findings showed that “on average, [women’s goods] are taxed 0.7% more than imports of men’s goods”. If legislative action advances for equal representation of women, it would “reduce the annual tax penalty on women by an average of $324 million per country and $15 billion across countries.”
New York was the first state to set a precedent by eliminating the pink tax on goods and services in 2020, and California is next! As of January 1st, 2023, the enactment of this law, charging more for items marketed for women will become illegal and no longer stand by the state. California estimates that women spend about $2381 more per year for the same goods and services as men, equating to “roughly $47 billion” (Jackson et al., 2020) extra women are spending in California. In order to qualify: two comparable goods must have the same intended use, have no substantial differences in production materials, have similar designs and features, and share the same brand/owned by the same entity. Despite its appeal, this law may need help in enforcement since it is difficult to directly compare women’s and men’s products. Liz Grauerholz, a sociology professor at the University of Central Florida who researches the pink tax, states:
“It is almost impossible to make a side-by-side comparison. And I honestly believe that manufacturers have gotten pretty wise to the pink tax, so they make them [men’s and women’s items] look like completely different products to make those side-by-side comparisons really difficult” (Elsesser, 2022).
Moreover, an additional barrier to differentiation is that women’s products often use more ingredients than men’s, making comparison claims even more difficult. Nevertheless, despite the difficulty California has yet to overcome, this new law is an essential step in the right direction.
Action has been and is continuously taking steps regarding tampon taxes. The sales tax, often called the “tampon tax,” is the “expense that girls and women must bear on top of the cost of biologically necessary items they need in order to attend school, work, and otherwise participate in public life” (Crawford et al., 2018, p. 53). Feminine hygiene products, such as tampons, are subject to a tailored tax but are classified as luxury items. In the United States, it has been up to each state to decide to eradicate the tax. In contrast, countries such as Kenya, Canada, and Ireland have exempted menstrual products from the sales tax. The Tampon Tax momentum is spreading globally, and awareness is desperately needed to make waves for the rest of the world.
In 2023, we will bear witness to the first time that the U.S. is upbeat about eradicating sales taxes in upcoming state legislative sessions. Currently, 22 states still tax menstrual products. Only two of these 22 states (South Dakota and Idaho) have yet to introduce repeal legislation. Period Law, a law and policy nonprofit, aims to end this discriminatory tax. They have helped accomplish their mission by aiding 18 states, saving over $120 million. Their calculations show that if the remaining 22 states also evolve, an additional “$110 million” will be saved.
According to PERIOD., Period poverty is “the limited or inadequate access to menstrual products or menstrual health education as a result of financial constraints or negative socio-cultural stigmas associated with menstruation.” Period poverty is prevalent and affects more people than meets the eye. Numerous studies have gathered and measured data showing that nearly 25% of all menstruators experience “period poverty,”; which is approximately 500 million women and girls globally (World Bank Group, 2018). In places like Missouri, U.S., 64% of low-income women could not afford menstrual products (Kuhlmann et al., 2019). This injustice further trickles down to the youth, which established that 1 in 5 teenagers in the United States struggles to afford period products (Thinx and PERIOD., 2019). Period poverty hinders the ability to learn. When people do not have easy access to period products, they are more likely to miss class.
CVS Health recognizes the pressing need to meet this fundamental human right by reducing its store brand period products by 25%. As of October 5th, 2022, amongst the states that have not eradicated the “tampon tax,” the pharmacy also began paying the sales tax for menstrual products on customers’ behalf in 12 states.
Latest Menstruation Legislation Updates
The latest legislation regarding menstrual rights is the following:
Illinois Senate passed a bill in November 2022 requiring free period products in all institutions and facilities of the Department of Corrections.
Texas introduced three bills in November 2022 to provide a sales tax exemption on menstrual products, which would apply to tampons, pads, menstrual cups, and other products.
Ohio introduced legislation in November 2022 requiring correctional institutions to provide inmates with a sufficient supply of period products for free.
Pennsylvania is passing a bill to introduce instruction on menstruation to the education system at the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year. This education will be inclusive to all individuals and was passed to the Committee on Education on October 24th.
New Jersey is in the process of passing 11 bills on menstrual hygiene.
The third bill that unanimously passed legislation enabled a “Menstrual Hygiene Products Program” to combat poverty. This bill enables grants to provide menstrual products to low-income individuals.
The fourth bill allows state entities to enter into bulk purchasing arrangements for menstrual products.
The fifth bill requires the Department of Human Services and the Department of Health to cover menstrual products under the state Medicaid program, the Supplemental Nutrition Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
The sixth bill requires that homeless shelters provide period products free of charge.
The seventh bill proposes establishing a Women’s Menstrual Health Screening Program to screen patients who display symptoms related to menstrual disorders.
The eighth bill requires schools to incorporate education on toxic shock syndrome and posters in women’s rooms to enhance public awareness.
The ninth bill requires municipalities and counties with a lower-income population to provide period products in their libraries.
The tenth bill requires school districts to provide menstrual products for students in grades k-12 free of charge.
The eleventh bill proposes establishing the State SNAP Menstrual Hygiene Benefit Program, which would allocate $1 million of state funds for menstrual hygiene benefits.
Congress introduced the bill Menstrual Right to Know Act of 2022, requiring manufacturers of menstrual products to disclose all the ingredients.
The world is waking up, but a mountain of work is still left to make things right for every menstruator globally. For 2023, take notice of these changes. Look in the feminine hygiene aisle and notice the prices. Check out your place-of-work restroom. Are there disposal bins or period products available? How about asking the next generation what their menstruation curriculum includes if it even exists? All these factors are crucial to education, awareness, and, most importantly, change. As a final note, I would like to leave you readers with a beautiful quote by the Founder of BeGirl, Diana Sierra (Aizenman, 2015):
“We’re not talking about rocket ships; we’re talking about sanitary pads. Yet they both have the same effect. They take you places.”
Aizenman, N. (2015, June 16). People are finally talking about the thing nobody wants to talk about. NPR. Retrieved December 27, 2022, from https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/06/16/414724767/people-are-finally-talking-about-the-thing-nobody-wants-to-talk-about
Betz, T., Fortunato, D., & O’BRIEN, D. Z. (2021). Women’s descriptive representation and gendered import tax discrimination. American Political Science Review, 115(1), 307-315.
Crawford, B. J., & Waldman, E. G. (2018). The Unconstitutional Tampon Tax. U. Rich. L. Rev., 53, 439.
Elsesser, K. (2022). Will California’s New Pink Tax Law Save Women $47 Billion Annually? Forbes. Retrieved December 26, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimelsesser/2022/12/19/will-californias-new-pink-tax-law-save-women-47-billion-annually/?sh=1f251feaff70
Jackson, H. B., Durazo, M. E., Gonzales, L. A., Jones, B. W., Monning, W. W., Stern, H., Umberg, T. J., Weckowski, R. A., & Borgeas, A. (2020). The ‘pink tax’: How gender-based pricing discrimination undermines women’s economic opportunity and what to do about it. CaliforniaLegislature.https://sjud.senate.ca.gov/sites/sjud.senate.ca.gov/files/2.18.2020_sjud_gender_pricing_info_hearing_background_paper.pdf
Kuhlmann, A. S., Bergquist, E. P., Danjoint, D., & Wall, L. L. (2019). Unmet menstrual hygiene needs among low-income women. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 133(2), 238-244.
Services 4. (n.d.). Period Law. https://www.periodlaw.org/resources
Thinx + PERIOD (2019). State of the Period: The widespread impact of period poverty on US students. https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0795/1599/files/State-of-the-Period-white-paper_Thinx_PERIOD.pdf? 455788
World Bank. (2018). Menstrual hygiene management enables women and girls to reach their full potential.