Since reading that Facebook post, one of the ways I’ve been putting my lawyerly skills to use is to end the “tampon tax. ” For years, menstrual products have not been exempt from sales tax (while a dizzying array of items, ranging from fruit snacks to gun ammo to erectile dysfunction pills go tax-free).
The tampon tax is only one piece of the puzzle: In 2018, Congress passed bipartisan prison reform that mandates access to menstrual products in federal correctional facilities. (And, yes, Trump signed it into law. ) Thirteen U. S. states have passed their own laws forbidding the withholding of menstrual products in county jails, state prisons, and juvenile detention centers.
It feels fitting that all this progress over the past five years—and the work we still have to do—is also getting the Hollywood treatment. Last year, Period. End of Sentence. , a documentary highlighting the stigma surrounding periods in rural India, won an Oscar.
We’re fighting for better education around women’s bodies; for more affordable access to tampons, pads, and menstrual cups; and against laws that make life more difficult for anyone with a period.
For the premiere of Pandora’s Box, a documentary highlighting period discrimination, activist and author Jennifer Weiss-Wolf reflects on what’s changed—and what hasn’t—in her five years of fighting for period equality.
Jennifer Weiss-Wolf is vice president and fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, cofounder of Period Equity, and author of Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity.
For the nearly one in five American teenagers who live in poverty, lack of menstrual products and support can lead to compromised health, lost classroom time, even disciplinary intervention.
Girls and women were missing days of school and work—and dealing with shame—because they were unable to afford period products.
Earlier this month a report out of Scotland showed just how powerful that is: 8 out of 10 students reported a positive impact, with almost two thirds saying they’re more able to stay in class during their period, and 25% describing improved mental health and well-being.
The stories shared onscreen—told firsthand by Kenyan schoolgirls, health advocates in India, British lawmakers and campaigners, and formerly incarcerated women fighting for justice reform in the U. S. —make me feel inspired, angry, and motivated all at once.
Kenya blazed the trail on this issue, scrapping the national tax on menstrual products in 2004, and more recently, activists have won victories in Australia, Canada, India, and Germany.
Incarcerated women and those held in detention—including the latest wave of girls separated from their families at the border—often must beg or bargain for basic hygiene needs, part of a degrading and dehumanizing power imbalance.