The Fight for Menstrual Equity Marches on in Massachusetts

This month marked the first annual #NationalPeriodDay—organized to “elevate the issues of period poverty and demand real change to make period products more accessible for all and end the #TamponTax” and ushered in with rallies in all 50 states.

Even though people with periods spend over $2,000 throughout their lives on menstrual products alone, menstrual hygiene products are still taxed as a luxury in 35 states that consider them “non-essential items”—even though some make exemptions for items such as Viagra.

“The tampon tax amounts to sex-based discrimination,” Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, co-founder of the nonprofit Period Equity and author of Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity, told the New York Times, defining the tax on menstrual products as an added layer to the “pink tax,” the term for the higher-priced gender-specific items marketed towards women.

The pink tax on menstrual supplies forces people to pay more to meet their monthly needs, creating a difficult cost barrier especially for low-income and homeless people who may struggle to make ends meet. Florida, Connecticut, New York, California, Rhode Island, Nevada and Illinois eliminated the tampon tax in the last three years, but many have left menstruators in the lurch.

Massachusetts, however, is showing some signs of progress.

Activists at a National Period Day rally. (Becker1999 / Creative Commons)

The state’s Joint Committee on Public Health is currently considering the I AM Bill, legislation that would provide free menstrual products at all homeless shelters, prisons and public schools throughout the Bay State.

In a survey conducted by NOW, 56 percent of school nurses observed students missing class to get menstrual supplies and 25 percent of shelters in the state reported that they do not provide menstrual supplies. According to MassBudget, approximately one out of every seven children in the state live in poverty and struggle to afford menstrual supplies.

Massachusetts is not the first state to introduce a bill to provide menstrual supplies as a public service—in 2016, for example, New York City passed a similar bill to supply homeless shelters, prisons and schools with menstrual supplies—but the I AM measure would be the first statewide law to prioritize free access to menstrual supplies, marking a big step towards true menstrual equity.

“Put simply, period policy is feminist policy,” Sasha Goodfriend, President of Mass NOW, said in a statement. “No one should have to choose between food, a roof over their head, their education and access to menstrual products. Public policy does not address the needs of menstruating people. Massachusetts has the opportunity to change that.”

NOW is encouraging people to submit testimonies about why Massachusetts lawmakers should pass the I AM Bill. To submit, click here.


Isabel Fields is an undergraduate student at Smith College studying both Women and Gender Studies and Economics.