Period Poverty: An Old Stigma, with New Awareness

Today’s blog was written by Bridgette Watson, Board Member of the Homeless Period Project.

Period Poverty. Maybe you have recently heard this term that is gaining national attention. For many readers, this is the first time they are hearing this term. So what exactly does period poverty mean? In short, period poverty refers to a lack of access to feminine hygiene products due to financial constraints. In a recent survey by Always*, “nearly one in 5 American girls and one in seven Canadian girls have either left school early or missed school entirely because they did not have access to period products.” These are just our school-aged girls. This does not account for the number of women living in poverty who are also affected by this monthly. Poverty affects women in the U.S at an alarming rate. According to a report from Shriver, roughly 42 million women live in or close to poverty. Yet most programs designed to help low-income families, including Medicaid, SNAP, and WIC, exclude menstrual products, even though the FDA considers them “medical products.”  There are many areas in which period poverty is prevalent in our society. In the workplace, in our schools, with women facing homelessness, our women who are incarcerated, to just name a few. This is why the term Period Poverty is so important. It is a healthcare crisis that has for years flown under the radar. There has long been a stigma around female menstruation, and that is something that The Homeless Period Project and many other advocacy groups who are fighting period poverty are trying to educate the public on and erase.

You may also be asking yourself, “Is this really an issue in OUR community?” More than likely, yes. Period poverty affects someone in your own community. In Greenville, South Carolina, we were shocked to learn of the dire need for feminine products.

 

What started out as a small mission to provide products to our homeless community, leading to to calls from all across the county that stretched from shelters, to free medical clinics, to our school nurses calling in desperate need for products.  Since 2015, we have been able to provide over 230,000 period packs. So yes, the need is GREAT!

 

What can you do to help those fighting period poverty? Help spread the word! Lack of awareness is one of our biggest hurdles. Find out if there is a local coalition working to help spread awareness about period poverty in your community, and if so, send them a quick email asking how you can help!

Also, become aware of how your state taxes period products. Every state is different. You may be lucky enough to live in a state in which the tax has been removed (Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire, and Oregon do not have a sales tax), and as of November 2018, ten states specifically exempted essential hygiene products (Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, and Pennsylvania). If you live in a state in which period products are taxed, find out if your local coalition is working on a project to help remove that tax, and if not, there is no better person to start that fight than you!

We in SC are in the process of starting that fight for the removal of the 6% tax on period products. Even in our state, during tax free weekend, period products are still NOT exempt under the current law! We know it may be an uphill battle that will take some time, but we are committed to fighting the fight and helping our women and girls get relief at the checkout when it comes to purchasing these items. We know for many, a $5-$6 box of tampons or pads is also the price of milk or another necessity they are having to choose between.  

For us, this is not just a social issue. We are working to bring dignity back to those who have long struggled with the stigma surrounding their periods. This is a fight we plan to be a part of for the long haul. We hope you will join us!

 

Bridgette Watson

The Homeless Period Project

www.homelessperiodproject.org

Follow along on Facebook or Instagram

PS: The Homeless PERIOD Project is excited to announce we are a part of a documentary series, Breaking the Cycle: Menstrual Taboos, Myths and Reality.  The director, Nancy Durrell McKenna, is the founder and director of SafeHands for Mothers and the film was produced by Deborah Bayer Marlow of MarlowFilms (http://www.marlowfilm.dk). The objective of the film is to hear the voices of individuals from 7 different countries (girls, boys, men and women) from varying cultures, addressing a different aspect of the challenges surrounding menstruation in their culture or experience. Through their stories viewers will be made aware of the taboos, cultural issues and/or celebrations around menstruation that have an effect on lives around the world.

On Second Thought

If you tuned into GPB Tuesday morning for “On Second Thought,” you might have caught Jennifer Weiss-Wolf and Dominique Holloman talking around 14 minutes into the program. They discussed the compelling case for affordable menstrual products in Georgia, including #HB8 and the need for products to be readily available in our schools.

As it did on Tuesday, the question of ‘what the opposition to eliminating the tax on menstrual products exactly is’ comes up rather often for advocates of menstrual equity and an end to the discriminatory tax on menstrual products. As Jennifer and Dominique mentioned, a little education can help address any opposition that arises.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

The “tampon tax,” as it is sometimes called, doesn’t paint the total picture – there is no unique tax on menstrual products. But we know: that doesn’t make it inequitable. Here are the facts:

  • We do not have a uniform sales tax rate in Georgia – some items are exempt from sales tax. This can serve many purposes – to make Georgia a friendly state for business, to meet special interests, or to ease the financial burdens on products that are essential for consumers with limited means. The latter type of exemptions include, but are not limited to: food purchased for off-site consumption, prescription medications, durable medical equipment, and some non-prescription medical devices (like insulin syringes and blood glucose test strips).
  • Make no mistake: there are items which we would all consider necessities that ARE taxed. Some might consider amongst those necessities certain items used for basic hygiene – items like soap, toilet paper, deodorant, or even razors. Menstrual products are also currently not exempt.

So what’s the difference? Why should menstrual products be exempt when items like toilet paper aren’t?

Because we all have a need for toilet paper, but menstruation is a healthy, natural part of life for only one half of the population for an average of 40 years of life. In order to manage menstruation, menstrual products are essential. Period. Without menstrual products, there are health risks and menstruating persons would not have the ability to participate in the workforce and in school for an average of 7 days each month.

This is the primary reason that this tax is discriminatory and burdensome: only half of the population menstruates as an integral part of life, and so only half the population bears this tax burden. There is no other equivalence – no unavoidable necessity that the other sex has to purchase because of their natural biology.

With House Bill 8, the State of Georgia has an opportunity to eliminate what is, in essence, a special tax on menstruators, giving back $9 million annually to its citizens by exempting these products the same as they do other unavoidable necessities. It can alleviate this undue burden on women, who are already known to be economically disadvantaged in our state.

It’s just that simple: Stop Tax on Menstrual Products. It’s one step towards a more equitable society, and a fairer tax code.

Our conversation is being heard!

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GOOD NEWS FROM THE LEGISLATURE THIS WEEK!

Late Tuesday afternoon, in the annual budget hearings before the Joint Budget Committees of the General Assembly, Department of Corrections Commissioner, Tim Rawlings, was asked about the cost and availability of feminine hygiene products for women inmates by Representative Carolyn Hugley (D), of Columbus. 

Mr. Rawlings replied, “I do not know the cost but one change we did make about a month ago…normally we had a limit. We made a change and there is no limit on items of personal hygiene products for females and we made them more accessible in a common area bathroom. We started that about month ago.”

We applaud the Georgia Department of Corrections for this decision and encourage free and unlimited access for all those detained in correctional facilities in our state.

WJCL Covers Georgia STOMP-supported House Bill 8

Thanks to the work of groups across the state, the #GeorgiaSTOMP coalition is getting some great press, ensuring that Georgians know why we need to eliminate the state sales tax on menstrual products.

Most recently, Ciara Lucas with WJCL put together a video about #HB8, spotlighting the Junior League of Savannah’s valuable contribution to raising awareness of the discriminatory nature of this tax and the effects of #periodpoverty.

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Junior League of Savannah members with WJCL’s Ciara Lucas

Click here to watch the video!

Menstrual Monday: How to Talk About #PeriodPoverty

As you might have seen, HB-8 has been pre-filed in the state legislature! As we all prepare for session to begin this month, we are getting our ducks in a row and making sure our local representatives know the issues we are monitoring. Sometimes, there is a full county meeting to speak with them, and sometimes there’s 60 seconds in an elevator.

So how does one prepare to talk about period poverty when time is of the essence and the topic can be uncomfortable to broach? Here’s our recommended 60-second pitch. Try it out in the mirror, on your friends, on your dog, or on your OB-GYN. Whatever you do, make yourself comfortable with the language – and feel free to send us your questions!

We believe that a general lack of understanding about women’s menstrual needs has led to inequity not just in our tax base, but in institutions and public spaces across the state.

To address this inequity, we:

  • are requesting that the legislature commission a pilot project related to period poverty and its effects on education of women in our state’s public schools.
  • are working with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency to have menstrual products added to their list of basic necessities grant funds can be used to purchase, aligning our state’s agency rules with FEMA.
  • are researching and preparing for action related to menstrual products available in prisons.