When you think of women’s rights issues, equal pay, fair parental leave, and freedom from sexual discrimination and harassment probably come to mind. But what about menstrual equity? Increasingly, public health advocates and political activists are pointing to periods as a critical, though often overlooked, part of the conversation.
Stigmatization of periods and lack of access to menstrual products can create educational barriers and serious health concerns for women in the United States and around the world. Women in financial straits or experiencing homelessness have an extra hurdle when it comes to their personal health and hygiene, as menstrual products are expensive and often taxed as “luxury items” rather than medical necessities.
An increasing number of states are recognizing that improving access to menstrual products is an essential part of the fight for equal rights. Bills exempting menstrual products such as tampons and maxi pads from state sales taxes are popping up across the country. With the recent addition of Florida, 14 states and the District of Columbia currently have such exemptions on the books.
Michigan might finally be joining the party with Michigan Senate Bills 91 and 92, sponsored by Senators Rebekah Warren and David Knezek. Representative Sarah Roberts introduced similar bills in the Michigan House in 2016, but they didn’t get a hearing. Proponents of the bills argue that this exemption is a “no-brainer, given how many other items are already considered necessities that deserve exemption.” Items currently exempt from sales tax include prescription drugs, certain agricultural machinery, industrial laundry supplies, textbooks, prosthetics, durable medical equipment, and mobility-enhancing equipment. MCL 205.54a, .54g. While eliminating taxes on menstrual hygiene products is not a comprehensive solution to inequality, supporters believe that it is an important step and makes a major policy statement that continues the conversation.
The bills passed the Senate Finance Committee unanimously, but for now it is unclear when SB 91 and 92 will come up for a vote.