I just started my period and I dont have a tampon. I know all of us have been in this situation but today its got me wondering. Is access to menstrual hygiene a social justice issue? Lets find out. If youre some kind of coupon clipping champion, you might get away with only spending $70 per year on tampons and pads. But the average uterus is doing its thing from age 13 to age 51. And thats about 456 periods over the course of 38 years. So even if youre only buying the cheapest tampons“ and youre probably not“thats still about $3,000 over the course of your lifetime to absorb blood. Maybe that doesnt sound expensive but the fact that these products arent freely available in public like toilet paper, is an inconvenience. To me, to you, to a lot of people. This is Chelsea. She helps people who have a really hard time getting a hold of a tampon. About two years ago she saw something that she couldnt ignore. I was driving one day and I got stopped at a red light. And I saw this homeless woman at the corner and she started crossing the street. And I noticed that her bottoms were stained in blood. She was so exposed.
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I mean, it was broad daylight. I just started looking around even more. Is anybody else seeing this shit? If we dont have these products, our health can be in jeopardy. STDs, STIs, urinary tract infections, toxic shock syndrome. But menstruation is necessary for humanity. People think like, Oh, its just the 5 to 7 days that are important. No! Its every freaking day! Its a health issue. She was angry and she got curious. If you are homeless, where do you go when you have your period? She called every homeless shelter in Los Angeles until she finally got through to someone. She answered, We dont really have something directly for that specific moment or need. Since then, she has been in touch with a number of shelters and she agreed to come with me to Midnight Mission in Skid Row. This is the mens recovery floor. These are our dorms. Lady on deck! Lady on deck! Are we dressed? Say, Hi! Hey! Woo! Hey! Thats right. We have an excellent gym and a workout room so they can start working on their physicals. When these shelters were founded in the early 20th century, homelessness was a mans problem.
But now among the 47,000 people living homeless in LA County, about one-third are women. Here we go. This is the lovely women! They have to come see you guys. Hi ladies! Hey! Shelters like Midnight Mission are racing to meet womens needs but public understanding of homelessness hasnt kept pace. When people donate to these shelters, they normally think about men cleaning up for job interviews. They don’t really think about women managing their periods. Is that good? I just don’t want my tattoos showing. That’s great. What’s your tattoo of? Oh my gosh, well.. I got it when I was incarcerated. This is Rita Richardson. She’s a program manager at Midnight Mission. Where do your sanitary napkins, tampons.. where does that come from? Well, that’s a good question.
A lot of it’s donated and then we have somebody through gift in-kind, that does seek out different sources to help keep with the overall functioning. And to keep that going. Because that can become very expensive, as you know. You know what I mean? Yes. It does help when people love to.. a wish list, per say or something like that. So basically they rely on donations. This is Janice Johnson. She lives in a tent on Skid Row and she stops by Midnight Mission occasionally. What has it been like for you when you get your period? What do you do? Well.. If the store is closed, I would have to go to the restroom. Get some tissue, roll it up, make a pad, a liner out of that. You got to be secure about what..
If you dont have the real thing, you gotta make your own. This is Barbara. Shes been in the shelter for six months after being homeless for 20 years. She wants to become a drug counselor. A lot of the missions will pass that out to you, if you dont have it. If you dont have it. But if they dont have it and you dont have it, you have to hustle for it. Shelters like Midnight Mission do what they can for periods but their supplies can be hit or miss. And only about 25% of the homeless population in LA County is in the shelter system anyway. That leaves a lot of people underserved, and under-wicked. Chelsea wanted to fill the gaps in the shelter system, so she decided to do something. Over here, really quick. The kids are doing six of each thing. So six pads, six tampons, six panty liners. Were doing wipes. She started Happy Periods simply by calling her friends and asking them to donate tampons, pads, panty liners, soap, underwear.
Pack them up and deliver them to people on the street. It was that simple. We know that tampons and pads and all of that stuff is important to our health, and sometimes expensive and hard to come by. But did you know that on top of all of that, these items are taxed? Yep. They call it the tampon tax. But before you get all up in arms and take to Twitter, you have to understand that the tampon tax isnt just on tampons. And it doesnt specifically target feminine hygiene products at all. Its just sales tax. Youre like, Who cares? Lots of stuff has sales tax. But state-by-state, a bunch of items are exempt from this tax. Stuff thats considered necessities. But do you know what that includes? In California, where I am now, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia co-authored a bill that shes trying to push through state legislature to exempt feminine hygiene products from sales tax. She tried this before in 2018 and it was unanimously approved until it got to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown“ where he vetoed it. He called it a tax break. And in a state strapped for cash, that just wasnt gonna fly. What a buzzkill, right? If menstrual hygiene products can’t be exempt from sales tax, then how did all those other things become exempt in the first place? I thought it would help to consult an expert in economics.
I was wrong. My name is Christopher Thornberg. I’m a founding partner of Beacon Economics. I’m also the Director of the Center for Economic Forecasting at the business school at UC Riverside. Well I’m curious about how all of those exemptions get determined. Because, I mean, I’ve thumbed through the exemptions in California. Where do those come from? Well, obviously it’s based on political decisions. Correct. It’s a game that gets played. Every sector likes to pretend that somehow or other it provides a product or a service that is at some sort of morally higher level than other products and services. So many interests are benefiting from the politicization of these tax exemptions. Why can’t menstruating women also benefit? But that’s not an argument to the positive. That’s an argument for why all these other exemptions should go away. These exemptions, in general, are not logical. The point here is that exemptions are wrong. The reason you’re here is to discuss logical arguments, not emotional arguments.
The problem is I’m painting you into a logical corner and you’re frustrated. I, no, I.. And let me go to the next step. You’re not even allowing me to fully construct my argument. Construct the argument. Let’s go back to the argument. The argument that you’re trying to make is.. Sure. Okay. Tell me the argument I’m trying to make. That menstruation is a female issue. By and large, yes. Okay. If you’re wondering what my face looked like during this interview, it was kind of like this.
I’m sorry. If you’re focusing your records on this tiny little thing, you’re wasting your time. Because we have big issues in the world around us. Real issues. Things that we should talk about. And that’s what your people need to hear. Fine. Women don’t deserve these tax exemptions because no one deserves these tax exemptions. Feminine hygiene products shouldn’t be exempt from sales tax because nothing should be exempt from sales tax. But I wasn’t mad at this guy. I was mad that, of all of the things worthy of sales tax exemptions, it’s like nobody could admit that tampons might be one of them. And the message that this sends to women is, We need you to deal with your problem. So stuff some toilet paper in your coochie and shut up. It doesnt change whats happening on the ground. Do you think people ever think about a woman who’s homeless and has her period? Do they ever consider the fact that you still might have your period? I don’t think they even give a damn. How did you deal, in-between panhandling and prostitution, how did you deal with your period? Oh, we had to get.
. make tampons out of toilet paper. A clean sock. And a lot of times I resorted to stealing. Hi! Do you need any feminine products? Thank you so much. Do you need feminine products? Feminine products like pads, tampons, wipes. You can grab one of these too, its the same stuff. Okay, thank you. Youre welcome. After someone suggests that you might be wasting your time on an issue, I think you’re obliged to seek out a second opinion. Im about to call Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, the woman whos credited as making the tampon tax an issue worth talking about. Hello. Hey Jen! How’s it going? Good, good. By day, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf works at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. But by night and on weekends and in basically any spare moment she has, shes an advocate for what she calls, menstrual equity. Menstrual equity means, to me, if their body menstruates, they need access to these products.
Theyre not able to participate equitably and equally if they cant access these products. Jen was one of the first people to make a big fuss about the tampon tax in the US. The tampon tax isnt really the solution or the relief. Whats great about it, is it got people talking. But heres the thing: we do have a system right now that allows for exemptions and, like I said before, nobody ever raised the question of menstrual products and thats why it was never included in the exemptions that were offered. Wait. Did you all hear that? The existence of the so-called tampon tax has less to do with the necessity of these items, and more to do with who has a seat at the table. And who does not. Would you consider access to menstrual hygiene a social justice issue? Yeah. I consider access to menstrual hygiene both a social justice issue and a human rights issue. Why? It can actually be a real crisis. And it’s not just a crisis of dignity, although that should be enough for any of us to be concerned. But it’s a crisis in health. Heres the rub. Whether or not there should be sales tax exemptions, there are. Menstrual products are left out of that simply because when a group of people met up to decide what was worthy, no one raised their hand for tampons.
And this sends a message about how we, as a society, see menstruation and whose problem we think it is. Clearly it’s not this guy’s problem. Unfortunately, we still have the tampon tax. But..Shes a rookie bike rider. I can tell! Sorry. Were in Venice. About an hour drive from Skid Row, depending on traffic. Handing out tampons works a little differently here. Well, its Saturday so there are some individuals who just look homeless but theyre not. So we gotta be a little careful. Hi! How are you doing? I want to ask do you need pads or tampons? No, but thank you. Okay. Thank you! As I watched Chelsea hand out tampons, tampons that she and her friends bought, sales tax and all, I wonder who else is going to step up. Who else is going to acknowledge that periods are not just a womens issue? Hi! Oh yeah.
Sure, sure. Im living on 3rd Street for the first time, due to a heartbreak. Youre on 3rd Street? Yeah. In Venice? Yeah. Oh, word. 3rd Street. Do you want all of these? Youre free to take them. Yeah, sure. Do you want some tampons? Oh wait, let me see. Ill just open this box. Tampons would be better. I mean, either one. Either one. My aunt told me when I was 13, shes like, Dont use tampons cause youre going to pop your cherry. And youre not gonna be a virgin anymore. Im like, Okay.
Thats funny! When we go out and were passing out kits, overall, it makes me happy. However, I know that Im privileged. Im not here to judge. Im not here to bother. Im just here to help. Look at that. Didnt even know. Wheres Jacki? I’m right here. Oh! My shadow. All over the country, this is an issue thats hiding in plain sight. Its important to understand that fixing access to menstrual hygiene, if thats even possible, is not just about handing out supplies on the street. And its not just about changing tax policy or electing diverse public officials. Its a combination of everything in-between, starting with a radical acknowledgement that menstruation isnt just a womens issue. Its a public health issue. You dont have to be a woman to care. Thanks! And every single one of you came out of a uterus! Dont pretend! Thanks for reading.
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