Does Your State Have A Period Tax?

Illustrated by Vero Romero.

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf has been fighting for menstrual equity since 2015, and says people are constantly asking her why she picked this particular area of gender justice out of the many that need attention.

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"There are all of these issues of equality and justice in these challenging times for women's rights," Weiss-Wolf, cofounder of Period Equity, the country’s first law and policy organization created to fight for menstrual equity, tells Refinery29. "People will look at this one and say it seems a little marginal. But it's important to remind people how central it is and how it ties in to other issues. The challenge is getting people to come along and see the broad gateway that this issue is."

For one thing, the marginalization of menstruation contributes to women's economic equality with the so-called "tampon tax": 33 states still tax menstrual products like tampons, pads, liners, and period cups, while items as disparate as doughnuts and Viagra manage to stay exempt. This puts a greater financial burden on people who menstruate, who spend an estimated $150 million a year just on the sales tax for these products.

Weiss-Wolf, author of 2017 book Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity, has made it her life's work and passion to alleviate this burden. Together with organic feminine-care brand LOLA, Weiss-Wolf and Laura Strausfeld, Period Equity cofounder, are waging the Tax Free. Period. campaign, aimed at eliminating the period tax — and at the broader scope of menstrual equity, which is also about issues like providing students, incarcerated women, and shelter residents with menstrual products because they are basic necessities.

"It’s first and foremost about lifting the financial burden off of people with periods; calling out laws that are archaic, unfair, and discriminatory; and helping us move toward a better model of economic parity and gender equity," Jordana Kier, founder of LOLA, tells Refinery29. "It’s also a gateway to get people talking and thinking about the wider socioeconomic implications of menstruation."

The crux of the issue from a legislative standpoint, says Weiss-Wolf, is that tampons and pads are — as pretty much anyone who menstruates will tell you — a necessity for about half the population at some point in their lives, and one of the tenets of the U.S. tax system is that items that are considered necessary for life are afforded a tax exemption. But since, unlike many other countries, we don't have a national sales tax, there are more than 50 different battles to wage and gazillions of complicated tax codes to go through. (Weiss-Wolf would know; she did it for her book.) Plus, many industries that sell items most of us wouldn't consider a necessity (see: doughnuts), have waged successful campaigns for tax-exempt status.

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Weiss-Wolf summarizes it like this: "Our sales-tax laws are completely messed up."

The fight is going in the right direction. Back in 2015, 40 states did not exempt menstrual products from sales tax. Since then, 32 states have raised the issue in their legislative chambers and seven actually made menstrual products tax-exempt. "These laws have taken off like wildfire," says Weiss-Wolf.

But there's so much more to do. To join the movement, you can sign the petition online, read about the history of menstrual advocacy, and even get your money back on tampons and pads. You can also learn about where your state stands on the tampon tax, ahead.

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