It’s time we have the period talk America.
By: Eshrat Oyeshee
In the U.S., where more than half of the population are women, the majority of these women are obligated to pay a sales tax on menstrual products in 30 out of the 50 states. Taxing a product such as pads and tampons may not seem like that much of a cost but it adds up to about $150 million dollars that all women spend yearly on just the sales tax of these very essential products. Putting a tax on a necessary product for those who menstruate clearly shows the unconstitutional gender discrimination enacted into the taxation policies in America.
Elected officials are supposed to represent and address the needs of their constituents. Yet, the policies that they are advocating for are often a disadvantage for people who menstruate. As a result, these voters must find organizations that push for gender equality and not just economic gains for states through tax dollars. Every state is responsible for determining taxable and non-taxable items, but when 41 of 50 governors are men, the topic of menstrual, or the pink tax is not considered a high enough priority.
One might also argue that these elected officials are unaware of the importance of menstrual products, hence why these male governors deemed female products as unessential. But ignorance is not a strong enough excuse for gender-based tax discrimination. Gender discrimination in America is not new, yet it is so subtly inserted into current policies that most of us may not even notice. Some women are not even aware that they must pay up to 10% in sales tax just because the state deems it non-essential.
While ironically, we live in a country that believes that Viagra (erectile dysfunction medication) should be tax-exempt, yet will fight to keep taxing a product that half the country must use for a basic need. One may say that Viagra is tax-exempt because it is a drug, and drugs are categorized as medically necessary, but this just shows even more how unforgiving it is to be a woman in America. This shows how an erectile dysfunction medication is considered to be medically necessary but feminine hygiene products are a luxury that must contain a sales tax. This type of mentality and policymaking is detrimental to a woman’s basic rights.
Our country is supposed to be democratic and progressive but it seems as if we are moving backward when it comes to women’s health and needs. Commonwealth nations such as Australia and the United Kingdom have surpassed us in the progression towards a more fair society in regards to gender equality. These other first-world nations have shown that policy change can be done effectively if the public recognizes how current taxation laws are discriminatory to half the population in a country. In the case of these countries, individual support through different non-profits campaigns helped push for changes in the country’s tax laws.
In the U.S, states such as Michigan have recognized that pads and tampons should indeed fall into the list of tax-exempt necessities and are actively trying to change the current policy in place. A group of female senators and representatives in Michigan are proposing to repeal the ‘Tampon Tax’ because of its blatant disregard for affordability and accessibility to menstrual products for all. States are estimated to profit $120 million annually from taxing menstrual products. Yet for many women, having these taxed products is an economic burden. One can see this as sexist because women are being disadvantaged financially just for having certain anatomy.
To overcome this burden, organizations such as Period Equity are leading the fight for menstrual equity for women. The organization is led by a team of women lawyers across states, who advocate for policies that remove tax on period products in all 50 states while addressing that taxing these essential products is a type of gender-based discrimination, which is completely unconstitutional.
It is important for every American to realize how this one tax is part of a large institutional problem that should be addressed and changed. The majority of states in America ignore the fact that feminine hygiene products are not a luxury but a basic necessity. It is unfortunate to see the United States in a policy gridlock on whether putting a tax on being a woman seems appropriate for the government to approve. The rest of the world is moving ahead towards a society where it does not cost more to survive as a woman, but that cannot be said for the U.S. In America, states are still having trouble getting votes to pass bills exempting the tax on menstrual products. But it’s no trouble at all to remove the tax on medications for erectile dysfunction since it’s “medically necessary.”
The feminine tax is a burden for many U.S. women; economically and socially. Especially for people in the U.S. from lower socioeconomic groups who already have trouble affording sanitary feminine products due to costs. I encourage more women to recognize how unconstitutional it is that we are having to face economically impacting gender-based discrimination. It is important to support the campaigns that are fighting for new policies that accurately describe how women’s health should not be used for economic growth for states, but instead have taxes on all menstrual products removed throughout the entire country.
Eshrat Oyeshee is first-year MPA Health Policy and Management candidate at NYU Wagner, specializing in International Health. She is passionate about gender equity, mental health, and the future of telehealth. She has a bachelor’s in Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience, and a background in positive psychological intervention research among different socioeconomic levels.