by Katelyn To
Photography by Zeyada Negasi
Periods. It’s an inevitable and inescapable part of women’s (and transgender men’s) lives–and a large one at that. The average girl in the United States starts her period at 12 years old and most stop menstruating at 45 to 55 years old. That’s up to 43 years of menstruation cycles. But with periods come period products, for those who can afford them. Currently the majority of the United States taxes feminine hygiene products (32 states, to be exact). The states that do not tax feminine products include Nevada, Alaska, New York, Florida, Oregon, and California. However, California hasn’t actually proposed a bill to remove the tampon tax and instead, has made a tax exemption through the state budget that will only last from 2020-2022.
Outside of the US, Scotland has recently made plans just last month to become the first country in the world to provide pads and tampons for free in attempt to eradicate what is known as “period poverty,” as well as get rid of the stigma around periods and lessen its effect on school attendance. Before that, they had already provided them for free at high schools, colleges, and universities.The Scottish Parliament had discussed things such as why toilet paper is provided in public restrooms but not menstrual products. In addition, countries such as Germany, Canada, Kenya, Ireland, and Australia do not put a tax on pads and tampons.
So while a few countries have done away with the tampon tax, a majority of the US still lags behind. Many people think this should change. Ms. Ginsberg, a teacher at Las Lomas for the Human and Social Development class, does not think that feminine products should be taxed. “They are basic, medically-necessary products. Ideally they would be free through medical insurance the way that many birth control methods are,” she said, and went on to say, “Tampons alone can cost a woman $2,000 over her lifetime, and this isn’t even counting panty liners, pain medication, having to buy new underwear, and other costs associated with menstruation.”
Junior Francesca Romero perceives the issue in the same way: “If places give out free condoms…I honestly think that that kind of stuff [feminine products] should be free, or at least there should be [a basic foundation] provided.” Many compare pads and tampons to food and medication, all necessities for basic human life. Yet, only the last two are tax-free in the US.
Junior Dina Mirmotalebisohi thinks that the US should get rid of the tampon tax specifically because of those in lower economic classes. “You have these people on the streets, even [those] who live in houses that can’t afford it, who are using toilet paper instead of actual products,” she said. “So when you make it so expensive, these women can’t afford it anymore, and they subject themselves to using unsanitary products that not only aren’t good for themselves, but also aren’t that helpful.” Ms. Ginsberg also said, “For low-income women and girls who don’t have consistent access to feminine products, the tampon tax can be a barrier to them attending work or school during their periods.”
Some also think these high prices and tampon taxes have sexist and discriminatory undertones. Mirmotalebisohi said, “I think what [the tampon tax] says is that there is a huge lack of knowledge on…how menstruation works…not only is it unfair but it shows that you don’t understand that women don’t have this power and jurisdiction over when they get their periods and how they get their periods and if they get their periods at all.”
This all ties in to the question of how accessible feminine hygiene products are for those who need them. On a smaller scale, people also question whether the Acalanes Union High School district and Las Lomas especially should provide pads and tampons in the school women’s bathrooms. Amy McNamara, the district’s Associate Superintendent of Administrative Services, specifies where people can access these products: “We provide them but not in the restrooms–in the nurses’ office or through wellness centers. Both have supplies.”
Periods can have a huge impact on education. Whether it is because of lack of products, pain associated with periods, or blood staining on clothing, it can affect one’s ability to learn and attend school. Usually the first place someone in need of a pad or tampon would check is the bathroom. As Ms. Ginsberg mentioned above, not knowing about how to access feminine products could possibly hinder students from attending school. “There are students that don’t have these products available at home, and school attendance can be impacted,” she said. “Even students who do have access to them at home might forget to bring them, or begin a menstrual cycle earlier than expected.” McNamara emphasized the significance of this as well. She said, “I think we always want to make sure students are able to learn and study, so we would want all students to have access to [feminine products] so they can return to instruction.”