The New York Times: It’s Not Just the Tampon Tax: Why Periods Are Political

By Karen Zraick for The New York Times  

The average woman has her period for 2,535 days of her life. That’s nearly seven years’ time of making sure you have a pad or tampon, finding a makeshift solution if you don’t, and managing pain and discomfort.

And lately, women — and transgender and nonbinary people who menstruate — are talking about it in public more than ever before. There are new products and services on the market, from menstrual cups to period underwear to medicinal cannabis and “period coaches.” Globally, advocates are pushing for recognition of a woman’s right to manage her period with dignity. And in the United States, activists are bringing the concept of “menstrual equity” into the public debate.

Let’s unpack that.

“Menstrual equity” refers to equal access to hygiene products, but also to education about reproductive health. And it’s the focus of a variety of new laws and policies to provide menstrual products in prisons, shelters, schools and even on Capitol Hill.

Advocates are also urging states to exempt menstrual hygiene products from sales tax, arguing that they’re a necessity.

A frequent refrain: Why are tampons taxed when Viagra is not?

Increased media coverage and some high-profile episodes — like Kiran Gandhi bleeding freely as she ran the London Marathon in 2015 and a backlash over Instagram deleting a photo of a period stain — have accelerated the shift.

Last month, a member of Britain’s Parliament announced in the House of Commons that she was menstruating, to make a point about “period poverty.”

A New York congressman recently got into a spat with House administrators over whether he could expense $37.16 worth of tampons for his staff and visitors.

And India said on Saturday that it would eliminate a controversial 12 percent tax on sanitary pads after a campaign by advocacy groups and celebrities. Canada also abolished a sales tax on such products in 2015, and an Australian push to do the same made progress this year.

Here’s an overview of the issues that women’s health advocates are talking about.

The fight for equal access to menstrual products

Laws in several states now mandate access to menstrual products in correctional facilities, shelters and schools. Two prison reform bills in the Senate — including the First Step Act, which is backed by the White House — include provisions on access to menstrual hygiene products, after complaints that the facilities were not providing an adequate supply. And the Justice Department directed federal prisons to provide inmates with free menstrual products last year.

In the House, Representative Grace Meng, Democrat of New York, has introduced two related bills. One aims to make periods more affordable, in part by allowing employees to use flexible spending accounts to buy pads and tampons, and requiring companies with more than 100 employees to provide them. The other would require manufacturers to disclose ingredients in such products.