Exempting feminine hygiene products from sales tax would benefit millions of women

Exempting feminine hygiene products from sales tax would benefit millions of women
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Last month, India exempted feminine hygiene products (like tampons and pads) from its sales tax. That’s right, you can purchase these items anywhere in the entire country — tax-free. It’s time for Ohio, and the thirty-seven other states who still tax tampons to catch up.

That’s why we introduced Ohio HB 61, a bipartisan bill that would exempt feminine hygiene products from the sales tax in our state. The issue of making medically necessary products more accessible is not a Republican or Democratic issue, and it is not about men versus women — it’s an economic and a quality of life issue. Access to sanitary products while menstruating is essential for women to lead a healthy life; to regularly attend school, work, personal events; and to fully participate in one’s community.

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Every woman knows what it’s like to hide a tampon up her sleeve, whether she’s a 15-year-old high school student or a 35-year-old state representative. We know what it’s like to fear standing up from a chair at a meeting or event, or to think there won’t be enough change in the bottom of our purses to buy a pad in the ladies’ room.

 

We aren’t always comfortable if our colleagues know we’re menstruating, and our colleagues aren’t always comfortable talking about periods. How can we expect to lead this change and break the stigma if we’re afraid to acknowledge or talk about something totally natural?

On average, a woman will endure some 456 total periods or roughly 6.25 years of her life. During this time, as part of this natural process, the average woman will spend thousands of dollars on feminine hygiene products to ensure a healthy and productive lifestyle. Too many hardworking Ohioans — and too many hard working Americans — are struggling to make ends meet, and we should not further this burden by taxing the purchase of products necessary for women and their medical well-being.

As a recent article in the Los Angeles Times said, “Imagine being down on your luck, having to figure out how to feed your family. Then image you are a woman of childbearing age. Which means you have monthly menstrual periods. Where do tampons and sanitary pads fit on a list of needs when your kids are hungry? How do you function, even look for work?”

Imagine not being able to concentrate in school or being distracted at work simply because you didn't have access to — or couldn’t afford to — purchase the appropriate and necessary medical hygiene products. In fact, according to a survey of 90,000 women, 18 percent of respondents missed school, work, or an event simply because they were afraid of someone discovering that they were on their period. Worse yet, women who are forced to use unclean feminine hygiene products or do not change them as frequently as necessary can develop irritations or infections leading to even more serious health problems.

There is a difference between how women’s medically necessary hygiene products are treated versus other medical necessities. Because only 51 percent of population — and 22 percent of the State Legislature — need these items, it’s not given the same accommodations as non-gendered medical necessities.

Earlier this year, I was proud that our state voted to exempt medically necessary eyeglasses from a sales tax. Why wouldn’t we? People need glasses to work, to go to school, and to live a healthy and fulfilling life.

We may not need a prescription to buy tampons or pads, but that doesn’t make them any less essential for our health. The only difference between feminine hygiene products and glasses is who uses it.

By exempting feminine hygiene products from the sales tax, millions of Ohio women, families, and households will benefit. Should the state no longer tax feminine hygiene products, these dollars would be placed directly back into the pockets of Ohio’s residents to spend in our economy.

Ohio — and the thirty-seven other states that still tax these medical necessities — should join the 13 states and four countries that exempt feminine hygiene products from the sales tax.

It’s not political to want a better life for women and their families. Political party preferences don’t determine if you need a tampon. Axing the tax on these medically necessary products is about quality of life. Period.

Brigid Kelly is the assistant minority whip at the Ohio House of Representatives and State Representative in OH-31 (Cincinnati). Follow her on Twitter @brigidekelly.