By Laura Blackburn
From taxing pads and tampons (aka taxing biology!) to not supplying menstrual hygiene products in restrooms, there are myriad ways that people’s experiences are dictated, circumscribed, and regulated with each menstrual cycle. In this election year, it’s time to elevate the issue of period poverty to the highest office in our country. As the Director of the Thinx Inc. GiveRise social impact program, I’m thrilled to announce our new advocacy campaign, Thinx2020, that calls on US presidential candidates across the political spectrum to create a plan to address menstrual equity and put the needs of people with periods first.
While I think about these issues on a day-to-day basis, menstrual equity hasn’t always been top of mind for me.
In 2013, after a long day of teaching fifth grade here in New York City, I popped into my neighborhood pharmacy to pick up more tampons and ibuprofen. I had always prided myself on approaching the checkout counter with cool, calm, and collected vibes — after all, I thought, periods aren’t something to be all weird about. When I pulled out my new Flexible Spending Account (FSA) card to delightfully pay with my tax-free dollars, I was stopped in my tracks by Uncle Sam.
“You can’t use that card for the tampons. It’s not eligible.”
So I swiped my FSA to pay for the ibuprofen and then pulled out my debit card in defeat for the tampons and fumed my way outta that pharmacy, determined to do the research behind why the money I had set aside to help me manage my health couldn’t be used for my period. On top of it all, I also paid tax on these tampons — ugh! (Luckily, New York state eliminated the tampon tax in 2016.)
how our laws discriminate against people with periods
It turns out that while the FDA regulates menstrual hygiene products as medical products, the IRS has deemed pads and tampons “general health products.” This classification means that tampons and pads fall outside of what folks are allowed to purchase with their FSA accounts. And though state legislatures are getting rid of the tax levied on menstrual hygiene products, 32 states have laws on the books that unfairly tax people with periods each time they re-up their period supplies.
In 2016, when President Barack Obama was asked why a “luxury goods” tax is placed on period products like tampons and pads in most states, he responded “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”
He’s not wrong. Historically, women and people of color have been vastly underrepresented in political leadership, concentrating key decision-making power within a select group of non-period having cis white men.
Luckily the tide is turning. In 2018, voters sent a powerful message, electing the most diverse group of leaders to the 116th US Congress. Of the 127 women currently serving in Congress, 37% are women of color — including the first Muslim and Native American representatives. While we’ve made strides in representation, there’s still a ways to go — despite being 51% of the population, women comprise just 25% of the House of Representatives and Senate. What’s more, women make up just under 29% of state legislatures nationwide, which is significant because these bodies decide which products and services are taxed. Not to mention, no woman has yet to occupy the Oval Office.
To fundamentally address period poverty, we must have stakeholders in positions of power who understand the impact of and can advocate for menstrual equity.
Thinx2020: periods are not partisan
This year, we’re proud to work with PERIOD, Homeless Period Project, and a growing list of coalition partners on Thinx2020 to shine a bright light on the widespread issue of period poverty and demand that our candidates for president give this issue the attention it deserves.
Together, we’re prioritizing the needs of students, folks who are incarcerated, people experiencing homelessness, and all other people with periods who experience barriers to accessing period products.
Learn more about our platform, sign our petition, and download some badass protest signs on our beautiful, shiny Thinx2020 page. We’ll keep in touch for on-the-ground rallies, period-kit packing parties, and more ways for you to keep the pressure on the presidential candidates.
Let’s make 2020 the year we make some *major* strides in an end to period poverty.Join our mission here.