On Oct. 9, participants with banners and signs gathered outside of the Capitol to show solidarity for the elimination of the tax on menstrual products.
Many organizations of different shapes and sizes attended the event. Of note was Period Equity, a national organization of lawyers seeking to use their expertise to advocate for reproductive rights, and Help Women Period, a grassroots organization in Lansing providing free menstrual products to those in need.
But, local or national, these organizations wanted to show support for two bills that are waiting to be heard in the state Senate.
If passed, these two bills, H.B. 4270 and H.B. 5267, would remove the 6% sales tax on tampons, pads and other sanitary products. These products have long been considered medically necessary products, which are required to be tax-exempt under Michigan laws by the Food and Drug Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.
Currently, the state collects approximately $6.5 million in tax on menstrual products every year. Advocates of the tax removal believe that exempting menstrual products from the sales tax would alleviate the 400,000 menstruators living below the poverty line in Michigan from considerable stress. This exemption can be a step towards widespread access to menstrual products as well.
Rep. Julie Brixie, D-Okemos, was present to show her support for the movement.
“So many of us have a drawer of period underwear that we take out,” Brixie said. “If we think about it, what do people living below the poverty line experience? ... What do they do if they get period blood on their pants, and teenagers who then perhaps ruin their pants and have to go to school?”
Brixie cited the issues teenagers face when first menstruating as more reason to eliminate the tax.
“Teenagers who are menstruating are subjected to some of the most embarrassing moments that we can think of if they do not have access to products,” Brixie said. “Taxing products that they need narrow down the resources they have."
Brixie also said youth activism is important. It is through her children, she said, that she became involved in the movement when she was still the Treasurer of Meridian. It was her children that brought her attention to an issue that “before has never crossed my mind.”
At the rally, people in their 20s had some of the loudest calls to action. Ashley Rapp, the co-founder of the University of Michigan Chapter of PERIOD, especially emphasized the potential of the current generation to create changes in society.
“These things people say about our generation are actually what uniquely situate and empower us to be the generation that ends the tampon tax,” Rapp said. “We are not here to yell and make noise about irrelevant issues like what we ate for dinner yesterday. We are here today to join our voices, to lift each other’s voices about issues that matter.”
In fact, many of the boldest organizational efforts have started and been spread by the power of social media. Helping Women Period was started as a small fundraising party for 30 before the founder had to book venues for the hundreds of people who saw her post on Facebook decided to join.
Rapp personally started small too, driving around handling products purchased with her birthday money. For Rapp, who has been involved in erasing period poverty for more than seven years, all actions — from social media campaigning to writing letters to legislators — are valid and important contributions to the movement, regardless of the scale of it.
Rapp’s advocacy has been only amplified by her own professional education in the healthcare field, they said. As an epidemiologist, it has helped to have the background knowledge of what happens if you use your products for a dangerously long time before replacing them.
“If I can use my background and experience to decrease the stigma, it is all I want to do,” Rapp said.
Noting that this rally is set weeks after Texas’s ban on six-week abortion passed, advocate Madeleine Morales noted the similarity between that ban and the current period tax in place in Michigan.
“Menstrual equity is a bipartisan human right and I'm thrilled that Michigan is hopefully going to be the 24th state to discontinue this very harmful practice,” Morales said. “For too many years, menstruators have shouldered the burden and that's why I'm here.”
While periods and reproductive health have historically been seen as a “female issue,” the terms “menstruators” and “menstrual products” were used throughout the rally to reflect the truth that the conversation surrounding menstruation and reproductive injustice extends to other communities as well.
“This is not just about political correctness,” Vice President of MSU’s chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action Riley Korus said. “The language we use and who we include in this movement has a real impact.”
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Korus said the aim is to erase the myth that menstrual and reproductive healthcare is only for women. By choosing to see menstruation as an exclusively female problem, it erases the women who do not menstruate and the people who menstruate but do not identify as women, Korus said.
“This kind of exclusionary language sends a message to trans people that need menstrual products that we are either women or we just don’t exist,” Korus said. “The tampon tax does nothing but punish people who menstruate for existing."
For Korus, his involvement in the movement is all about making activism gender inclusive. If this legislation is passed, Korus said he hopes that the effects would ripple to other reproductive issues.
“We can change the language so it is not women’s rights when we are talking about reproductive issues, or people with uteruses,” Korus said. “(The word choice) affects who is involved in the conversation and ultimately who get access to healthcare.”
In the same vein, Nupur Huria, a student activist with Mission Menstruation, said her involvement in activism means she has the opportunity to understand and side with her patients with her professional goal of becoming a physician.
Personally, however, as someone of Indian heritage, Huria said she wants to end the generational and cultural stigma surrounding having periods. In many parts of India, women cannot enter temples or even participate in daily life due to being seen as impure. It is the stigma and belief around menstruation that many girls and menstruators in India do not have access to proper period products.
Studies have shown that up to 77% of women in India are using and reusing old cloth in place of pads and tampons. Another 88% occasionally uses dried leaves or other objects to aid absorption, the study said.
“I do not want my future child to have to endure that,” Huria said.
Menstruators will pay up to $220 in taxes alone for period products over their lifetime — less than what Michigan State University charges for a credit hour per semester. But, the elimination of the period tax will do more than put that $220 back in the pockets of menstruators — it will serve as a stepping stone to free products at public spaces, particularly schools, so no one would have to miss out on school and the life-changing lessons that could come with it.
“It will put us out of a job,” Lysne Tait, the founder of the Lansing-based Help Women Period, said. “But, that is a positive thing.”
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