By Becky Kip
Is it just me, or does it seem like women are always getting the shorter end of the stick? While we may be long past the days of American women being unable to own property, access contraceptives, vote, and more, it’s hard not to notice the differences that still exist, even in 2016. There’s the gender wage gap, the low number of women in office, almost nonexistent maternity leave, and those seemingly “smaller” issues – like the fact that while many states tax tampons, condoms don’t get taxed.
Most states make tax exemptions for certain “necessities” (non-luxury items). Things like food and medical purchases generally go untaxed for this reason, but how states interpret “necessity” is murky.
While menstrual hygiene is vital for health, well-being and and was declared by the United Nations to be a basic health and human rights issue, 40 out of 50 states still tax feminine hygiene products. Other products like medicated condoms, Viagra, birth control and more go untaxed. Like in Indiana, where tampons and sanitary napkins are taxed, but BBQ potato chips are not. No, really. Proponents of eliminating the tampon tax have said this tax unfairly targets women, who have no other choice but to buy these products. Whereas all of us choose which flavor potato chips we want to eat.
While feminine hygiene products have been deemed a “medical device” by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), many states maintain the tax because they believe tampons aren’t used to treat, prevent, diagnose, cure or mitigate an “illness or disease.” This fine line has allowed states to apply state and local taxes on feminine hygiene products – up to $800 over the course of a woman’s lifetime.
At around $7 for a box of 36, tampons are expensive enough as it is, and the extra money dished out toward taxes makes them even more costly. Their high price tag can make them inaccessible to the girls and women who need them to leave the house, go to school and continue working. On top of that, food stamps don’t cover them either.
Things that make us shake our heads.
Where is our system failing women’s health? It all comes down to state tax codes.
The U.S. allows states to decide what will be taxed and how. This means that in order for women to stop paying extra for a biological process they can’t control, states must individually elect to add feminine hygiene products to the list of tax-exempt items.
Still, there are some women who are in favor of the tax. They point out that a “necessity” is not a binding term for items to go untaxed. Electricity is a taxable service, which we consider a necessity. And although these archaic tax codes were created decades ago (probably by committees of all men) it would be costly to re-write these codes. A lot of women say it’s a small price to pay for equality. But there are others that think tax dollars should be spent elsewhere.
Whichever way you feel, it’s imperative you don’t leave these choices solely up to politicians. Many Americans focus on national politics and presidential elections as ways to “get involved” and facilitate change, but local elections and ballots often have the most influence on our day-to-day lives. The difficult part is learning how to navigate an often confusing political landscape.
In order for tampons to be given the same tax exemption as medicated condoms and birth control, state representatives must sponsor a tampon tax bill. The bill would call for lawmakers to exempt feminine hygiene products from the sales tax, like assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal succeeding in doing last May in New York.
As women, our voices are sometimes overpowered and underrepresented. And part of that is because we don’t get involved. To weigh in on this issue and voice your opinions on whether the tampon tax should remain or be removed, you can start by voting in your local elections. Sales taxes on feminine hygiene products can be decided by voters at the municipal level, like in Chicago earlier this year. You can help elect officials who represent your best interest, call your existing legislators, and get your local community united in your stance.
While discriminatory injustices still exist, we all have the power to do something about them.