The Cost of Being a Woman

Elizabeth Avalos,
Staff Writer

Graphic by Tam Duong Jr./The Pioneer
Graphic by Tam Duong Jr./The Pioneer

The push to eliminate the state sales tax on menstrual products in the state of California is stronger than ever.

In late January, the California State Board of Equalization, which oversees state taxes, endorsed a newly introduced bill that will exempt menstrual sanitary products from the state sales tax.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D) and her Republican colleague, Ling Ling Chang introduced AB 1561 on the basis that these products are necessary health items, rather than luxuries and thus a sales tax should not be imposed on them.

“AB 1561 is about social justice, gender equity in our tax code, it’s an opportunity to end an outdated tax that uniquely targets women for a function of their body, a function we don’t control and can’t ignore every month of our adult life,” Garcia stated in a press release.

In January, writer and activist Jennifer Weiss-Wolf highlighted how poor menstrual hygiene is affecting low-income and homeless women on a global scale. In an article for the Huffington Post, she explained how a woman’s health, productivity and dignity becomes dangerously compromised when she is unable to afford menstrual sanitary products or lacks access to hygiene facilities.

Weiss-Wolf emphasized that in developing and third world countries, the consequences of poor menstrual hygiene are so horrific they can even prove deadly and many low-income women in the United States, especially those experiencing homelessness, share a similar struggle.

While it varies from state to state in the United States, California is one of 40 states that presently imposes a sales tax on these products. The only states that do not impose a specific sales tax include Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Jersey. The remaining five states do not have a state sales tax.

“If we think about who has been passing laws and regulations in these institutions of power, they’ve been governed by men and so they haven’t thought about it, and so maybe if a man got his period, yeah, we would have had this discussion sooner,” Garcia stated.

However, whereas the exemption of menstrual products from the state sales tax mitigates the financial burden that women have lived with, there is a separate concern regarding loss of revenue. Garcia acknowledged that the new bill would cost California more than $20 million per year, but firmly believes it is unfair for women to carry the weight of such a sizable profit alone.

“By putting that money back in the hands of women, we are creating greater access to a very important health product, especially in low-income and homeless populations,” Chang added. Still, states will be forced to figure out where to make up the lost revenue and an increased sales tax on other items could happen.

The push for menstrual equity has been so prevalent within the past year that Cosmopolitan Magazine even nicknamed 2015 “The Year the Period Went Public.” The magazine also joined forces with Weiss-Wolf to create a petition, “to spread awareness and acceptance of women’s (totally natural and healthy!) periods and galvanize a No Tax On Tampons campaign in the U.S.”

The petition encouraged women to sign and help warn state legislatures who financially profit from women’s periods that women will not stand for it. So far, it has accumulated 53,600 supporters.

“Aunt Flo is one helluva house guest,” the petition reads. “She can be painful, messy, and just keeps coming back each month. And, oh yeah, expensive! As anyone who menstruates knows, dealing with a period is a monthly necessity — and a costly one at that. Women spend upwards of $70 a year on sanitary products like tampons and pads.” For low-income and homeless women, this is a sum that proves difficult to afford.

Efforts to achieve menstrual equity have not been exclusive to California or the United States, for that matter. In June 2015, Canada eliminated their tampon-tax and similar efforts have taken place in Australia and parts of Europe.

In a recent interview with Youtube personality Ingrid Nelson, President Obama also weighed in on the tampon-tax debate and admitted he was unaware of it until Nelson brought it to his attention. He stated that he assumes they exist, “because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed,” and believes “it’s pretty sensible for women in those states to get those taxes removed.”