Are menstrual products a necessity or a luxury?
In the United States, products are taxed based on whether they are ‘necessities’ or ‘luxuries’. Products deemed luxuries include a sales tax – on average this tax is 6.25%. Products considered necessities do not. Medications, shampoo, ChapStick and Viagra are some examples of products exempt from the tax.
Products not considered necessities, and therefore not exempt from sales tax in the majority of American states? Tampons and pads.
Currently, only ten states have removed menstrual products from the list of taxed items. Nevada is the most recent to do so – their exemption came into action January 1, 2019. Other states include New York, Illinois, and Florida, plus Washington, DC.
In an interview from 2016, former president Barack Obama spoke about the issue: “I have to tell you, I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items […] I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”
For those who do not menstruate, this may not seem like a significant issue. But as Obama agrees, it is an issue of gender inequality and access to healthcare.
“The basic idea is that women should not be at a disadvantage in the health-care system and this is just one more example of it, which I confess I was not aware of until you brought it to my attention,” he explains.
The financial burden of sales tax on menstrual products is a significant health and economic issue.
According to the office of California assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, “women in California pay about $7 per month for 40 years of tampons and sanitary napkins.” That’s a total of more than three thousand U.S. dollars per year. Garcia pointed out that this issue “is not insignificant […] especially if you’re on a tight budget.”
The added cost of sales tax on menstrual products leaves many with a difficult choice: buying menstrual products or buying food. Women are largely already at an economic disadvantage due to the gender wage gap and poverty. Around 14% of girls and women in the USA – compared to 11% of boys and men – live below the poverty line.
“Having your period when [you’re] poor means that once a month you have the added stress of finding a way to pay for these essentials,” Garcia said in a Facebook post.
Several campaigns and organizations are bringing awareness to the issue of menstrual equity in the USA.
There’s PERIOD, a non-profit organization promoting the belief that menstrual care is a basic right. Distributing Dignity provides bras, tampons, and pads to women in need. Period Equity is a law and policy organization fighting for menstrual equity.
There are also awareness initiatives, such as Menstrual Hygiene Day, which highlight “the challenges women and girls worldwide face due to their menstruation.”
Most recently, the issue gained global attention when Period. End of Sentence won an Oscar for best short documentary. The film tells the story girls and women in Hapur, India where a machine was installed to create affordable sanitary pads. It also discusses the girls’ and women’s experience with menstruation stigma.
Efforts towards gender equality must include menstrual equity.
Menstrual products are undoubtedly necessities and not luxuries for those who need them. As long as women are required to spend more on essentials, we will remain at an economic disadvantage.