What is Menstrual Equity?
Planned Parenthood South Atlantic is committed to menstrual equity, but what is that, exactly? Here’s a definition we like from the national policy and law organization, Period Equity:
“In order to have a fully equitable society, we must have laws and policies that take into account the reality that half the population menstruates. Menstrual products should be tax-exempt. They should be affordable and available for all, safe for our bodies and the planet. Periods should not hold anyone back, period.”
Menstrual, or Period Equity is the idea that people who have periods shouldn’t be economically disadvantaged by the need for period products. This is especially important for lower-income people with periods who end up having to spend a greater percentage of their income on necessary medical products.
From the taxation of period products as luxury items to the unavailability of said products to young people in schools and incarcerated people in jails and prisons, Menstrual Equity seeks to address the gender injustice created by the very real need for period products.
What’s happening in West Virginia?
As the West Virginia legislative session begins, we are working with elected officials to pass three menstrual equity bills. These bills address the period tax placed on menstrual products, the availability of menstrual products in schools, and the provision of menstrual products in prisons and jails.
In 2019, House Majority Leader Amy Summers refused to hear Senate Bill 86. The bill, which had sweeping bipartisan support (passing 30-1 in the Senate) would have required free menstrual products in schools, ensuring that no young person had to miss school because of a lack of access to basic period products.
Volunteers from across the state have banded together to collect products and distribute them to local schools. But these grassroots efforts are simply not sustainable. And frankly, it’s not the responsibility of citizens to do the jobs of the people they elected to office.
It’s time for West Virginia Legislators to step up and pass these three common-sense bills.
What are the bills?
The removal of the tax on period products would alleviate the additional monthly expense of paying a luxury tax on a necessary medical product.
The West Virginia State Budget Sales and Use Tax exempts automobiles, prescription drugs, cellular services and groceries from state sales tax.
Period products are necessities for more than 275,000 people in West Virginia and must be added to the list of exempted items in order to provide economic relief for people with periods.
“We contend that the individuals that get their period every month have the right to care for it affordably, easily, and without shame. Action would intuitively lend itself to alleviate an unfair burden of taxation and limited access for these necessary products. As a value, we as a government, should not be looking to capitalize off of our communities, and her needs; but instead look to eradicate the barriers that hold us back from true economic freedom, prosperity, and healthy living.” - Delegate Sammi Brown (D – Jefferson, 65)
“Learn with Dignity” Act
This act would put period products in middle and high schools across the state. The availability of period products for free in schools would prevent students from having to choose between staying home and coming to school, provide access to expensive medical products to students from lower-income families, and reduce the stigma of having one’s period during the school day.
For students in school who cannot afford period and hygiene products, or who simply do not have any with them, a lack of access to period and hygiene products can negatively impact productivity and make it much harder to focus on classes. Some may even miss multiple days of school every month as a result.
Students should not have to go to a nurse’s office to access needed supplies. They should have what they need in the restroom to minimize any stigmatization and time away from class.
When students have access to quality period and hygiene products, they can continue with their daily lives with minimal interruption.
“WV Dignity for Incarcerated People” Act
According to research from the Prison Policy Institute, “If states were countries, West Virginia would have the highest imprisonment rate on Earth, with 273 female prisoners per 100,000.”
There are currently close to 220,000 women serving time in prison nationwide and the rate of imprisonment is increasing. Women serving time are disproportionately women of color and women with low incomes.
Women who are imprisoned deserve the basic dignity of access to period and hygiene products for their health and well-being.
In August 2017 the federal government required all federal prisons that house women inmates to ensure that no-cost period and hygiene products are available in sufficient frequency and numbers.
This bill asks West Virginia to follow suit so that all women inmates in the state—regardless of whether they’re in jail or state prison—have access to these basic medical necessities.