A group of activists rallied in Washington, D.C., on Monday to demand "menstrual equity" from the Department of Education.
These activists are part of a growing movement in the United States to eliminate taxes on menstrual products and provide such products for free in restrooms at schools, prisons, shelters, and public places.
"Period poverty" impacts women around the world, particularly in developing countries where women have limited access to menstrual products. In the U.S., where menstrual products of all varieties are abundant, they are still taxed as a luxury item rather than a health product in 35 states (though lawmakers in two dozen of those states have introduced legislation to eliminate the tax).
But even without tax, menstrual products can be a substantial financial burden, especially considering that women are already making 82 cents to the dollar of every man, and that 16.3 million American women are living in poverty.
According to HuffPost, the average woman who menstruates for 38 years will spend over $2,000 on tampons and liners in her lifetime.
The group of activists was organized by Unity for Access, a national grassroots campaign by period solutions company Thinx, and PERIOD, a youth-led non-profit that aims to decrease the stigma around periods and provide free menstrual products to those in need. The group published an advertisement directed at Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos demanding free period products in all school restrooms, from grade schools to high schools.
"We call on you, Secretary DeVos, to fulfill your agency's charge to remove discriminatory barriers that hold students back," the advertisement reads. "Menstrual hygiene products are basic necessities, and the inability to access them affects a student's freedom to study, be healthy, and participate in society with dignity."
Nadya Okamoto, the 20-year-old president of PERIOD, works with chapters at schools around the world to mobilize young people to demand increased access to menstrual products and to change the way schools talk about menstruation. And she is succeeding: In an interview with Vox, Okamoto said a chapter in Portland convinced the school district to spend $25,000 to provide free menstrual products in all public high school bathrooms. A regional director in Fort Worth, Texas, passed a similar policy in a school district there.
"Oftentimes, people will tell us it's not a necessity, like this is something that shouldn't be prioritized over other social issues like hunger," Okamoto told Vox. "The biggest thing is us really needing to convince people that this is a necessity and not a luxury. I know it sounds simple to people who believe in gender equality, but it's easier said than done." DeVos and the Department of Education have not responded to the letter.