In the eighth grade, I got my very first period.
Like me, many women dread the days we start our menstrual cycle; after all cramps, bloating and acne are only some of the things we experience during this several day cycle. I have to say, I’m quite lucky — I have always had access to menstrual products and medicine that help me subdue the pain and discomfort.
It took me some time to dismantle the idealistic picture I had painted in mind and realize that I was living a more privileged life compared to others. I was scrolling through Instagram recently when I encountered a post stating that a 2017-2018 study of low income women in St. Louis, Missouri, found that two-thirds could not afford menstrual products. This can’t be right, I thought to myself.
But I did more research and, to my dismay, found even more shocking results. I found a 2018 study stating that 1 in 4 teenagers have missed class because they lacked access to menstrual products. And I was angry to see that there were so many states that still applied sales tax to tampons — effectively, a tampon tax.
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The majority of states exempt necessities like groceries from sales tax. Since menstrual products are essential for us women and beyond our control, we shouldn’t be forced to pay extra. Right? Women shouldn’t be forced to pick between buying other necessities or menstrual products. Right?
America is far behind in period poverty
Wrong. A tampon tax exists in 33 states. There are women, even teenagers, who have to make the choice between feeding their families and purchasing the basic necessities needed during their menstrual cycle. But it doesn’t make sense to advocate to each state individually and plead with them to abolish the tampon tax because this isn’t a problem that exists in just one or two states; it exists everywhere.
Women shouldn’t have to use rags and toilet paper during their cycle, or use the menstrual products they do have for an extended period of time, which puts them at risk of infection; there are young girls, girls my age, who miss out on their education because they can’t obtain the bare necessities.
It is time for the United States to take a stand. We are a country that has always taken pride in its diversity, a country where both genders are equally seen and valued. So where is this pride, when it comes to women’s necessities?
There are two things that must be done: The tampon tax must be repealed and Rep. Grace Yang’s, D-N.Y., Menstrual Equity for All Act should be passed in Congress. Her bill would increase the availability of menstrual hygiene products for young girls and women who face financial insecurity. Period poverty is a problem that has existed in the United States for far too long for the government not to take a stand.
How do I know this is possible? Because recently I saw these headlines fill the news: “New Zealand schools will offer free menstrual products. Where is the US on period equity? Far behind, experts say.” and “New Zealand to offer free period products in schools nationwide.”
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More and more countries are continuing to find solutions to combat period poverty and now it’s our turn. Countries like New Zealand and Scotland have been able to do it; countries that have a significantly less developed economy compared to the United States. For instance, the gross domestic product of the U.S. is nearly $21.5 trillion, whereas New Zealand’s is more than $205 billion. That’s a lot of zeros to think about, but the U.S.’s GDP is 104 times that of New Zealand’s. One hundred and four.
I try to imagine being a high schooler facing financial insecurity and not being able to afford menstrual products, but the truth is I can’t. I can’t imagine myself being deprived of the bare necessity that every female should have access to. Unfortunately, the truth is that this is a problem that too many women face across the world and at home and its time for the United States of America to help make a change.
Vedika Jawa is a student at Washington High School in Fremont, California.