The New York State Senate just passed a bill that will exclude sanitary products from sales tax, a.k.a the “tampon tax.”
This comes just a month after the same bill unanimously passed in the Assembly. The bill still needs to be signed by Governor Cuomo before it becomes law, but this is truly a day to celebrate for all girls and women.
In states with a “tampon tax,” tampons and pads fall under the "luxury tax," which applies to products or services deemed unnecessary or nonessential.
But this so called “luxury tax” confuses most because tampons are indispensable health products for many women , for around 30 years of their lives.
What part of that definition seems luxury or nonessential?
The effect of lack of access to sanitary products can be seen most in girls in the US and abroad. Girls are often forced to miss school and are susceptible to infection and other health consequences because they cannot afford the right products.
In countries with high rates of poverty, the problem is more severe. In Kenya, for instance, sanitary pads cost about 60 cents a package. For an average girl, this is way too expensive. The average daily household income for a middle-class family in Kenya is $3.
As a result, menstruating girls often resort to using rags, leaves, newspaper, bits of matress stuffing or even mud, to provide some sort of protection. Not only are these methods uncomfortable and ineffective, it can lead to serious infections and life threatening symptoms.
New York is one of the many states that continue to place a 4% sales tax on feminine products. However, most medical necessities and even things like chapstick, shampoo, face wash, and Rogaine do not have any tax imposed on them.
The tampon tax is a critical issue in US because it creates a health barrier for girls and women living in poverty.
The issue of the tampon tax became a hot topic of discussion in New York when five women brought a lawsuit against the state’s department of taxation, calling the unequal treatment of sanitary products “a vestige of another era” that “serves no purpose other than to discriminate.”
Several other states have followed suit, and are fed up with the tax on sanitary products. A similar case in Ohio has been filed, where the plaintiffs are claiming the state’s tax is discriminatory to women. They’re also demanding that women be reimbursed for the extra costs they’ve incurred by being taxed over the last six years. California recently introduced a bill that will end the state’s tax on tampons.
President Obama has also weighed in on the issue himself, saying he has “no idea why states would tax these as luxury items… I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.” He added, “I think it’s pretty sensible for women in those states [that tax sanitary products] to work to get those taxes removed.”
Rescinding the city tax on menstrual materials means more than a few more extra dollars in the pockets of girls and women. It opens up an important conversation and ends a form of discrimination.
The passing of this bill is a huge step in the right direction for not only New York, but for the US as a whole, in the fight for gender equality.