Back in 2015, a group of U.S. women launched an organization to publicly support half the population with something the other half rarely has to think about.
PeriodEquity.org’s mission is to create “laws and policies that ensure menstrual products are safe, accessible, and affordable for everyone who needs them.”
Scotland just took it a step further. Last week, its Parliament voted to make menstrual products free to everyone who needs them. Free. To everyone.
Why, you might ask? Countless people worldwide can’t access menstrual products, suffering from what some call “period poverty.”
Since PeriodEquity.Org launched, ten U.S. states have passed laws eliminating sales tax on tampons, sanitary napkins, and other menstrual cycle essentials. A number of cities and states also passed policies to provide free menstrual products in schools, shelters, and jails.
These are good policies that are beyond overdue. At least since 1854 when the first menstrual product was patented.
We exempt lots of essentials from sales taxes, such as food and prescription drugs. And even some non-essentials with powerful lobbies, like yachts. Since tampons and the like are only purchased by people who menstruate, taxing them is clearly discriminatory.
Scotland’s new law demonstrates the power of democracy. We, the people, have the power to determine that some things are public goods. That some things should be available to all. That some things aren’t private goods, available only to those who can afford them.
Of course, private companies make the products. But that’s beside the point. By definition, public goods, whether they’re paid for with public dollars or not, are subject to rules regarding access, affordability, and quality.
Unfortunately, I can’t see the U.S. following Scotland’s lead anytime soon. Anti-government sentiment and individual freedom (not to pay for someone else’s tampons) is baked deeply into our popular culture.
Right-wing senators and representatives would lose their minds (just like with food stamps, Medicaid, and other safety net programs):
- “Free tampons will make women dependent on the government rather than themselves.”
- “We shouldn’t spend tax money on undeserving women who don’t take responsibility for their own periods.”
- “We’ll see rampant tampon fraud when women hoard truckloads of tampons.”
- “Men, and women who have gone through menopause, shouldn’t be forced to pay for someone else’s tampons.”
- “What next? Will we be forced to pay for lipstick, bras, or hair color for women who don’t want to go gray?
- And of course, “How are we going to pay for it?” (In fact, arguing against a recent proposal for a tampon tax exemption that would’ve lasted a mere three days, Tennessee Republican Senator Joe Hensley asked, “Do [we] have a way to replace the funds?“)
Here’s what I would say to all of that:
- Figuring out who is and who isn’t deserving is absurd. Everyone who menstruates needs products for several decades of their lives.
- Government dependency when it comes to menstrual cycles is meaningless. I’ve never met a woman who would like more periods.
- Funding menstrual products through progressive taxes and revenue sources is the simplest, least bureaucratic, and least expensive way to ensure everyone who needs them gets them.
- Men should help pay for tampons because every man is tied into reproductive care since conception. Just saying.
“What next?” the right-wing pundits would ask. I don’t know, maybe other things we all rely on? Health care? Childcare (I’m pretty sure every one of us was a child at one point)? A college education?
None of those things are free, because nothing is. But how we pay for them depends on whether we decide they’re essential public goods that everyone should have access to regardless of income, gender, religion, race, disability, or any other difference.
That’s what the tampon fight exposes. Opposition to tax-free menstruation products is surely discriminatory and sexist. Reducing the cost will help poor women who may have to choose tampons over food and other basic needs.
But there’s something much more fundamental at play. Scotland has reminded us that, in the words of right-wing economist Milton Friedman—though this probably isn’t what he had in mind—we do have the freedom and power to choose.
We can take things out of private markets—all or in part—when they meet an essential public need. And menstrual products do just that.
Photo by ▓▒░ TORLEY ░▒▓