On October 18, activists gathered at the University of California, Berkeley (Cal) to challenge the notion that menstruation and associated products should remain private. “These products are just as important as toilet paper, which is provided in public restrooms,” said protestor and second-year Cal student Allison Lu. Lu, like others who attended the protest, intends to continue fighting for menstrual rights worldwide.
Protestors argued that important debates about who carries the expense of menstrual products and their sales tax do not take place due to talk of periods being stigmatized. As a result, 35 states continue to impose a sales tax on menstrual products as luxury items, and their users pay an estimated 150 million dollars per year in said taxes.
In California, these tax revenues amount to over $20 million per year. Both houses in the state voted to repeal the tax in 2016. However, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the repeal, citing loss of revenue.
The costs of menstrual products are high for those with low incomes, leading to what protestors called “period poverty.” When a low-income budget can’t accommodate the expense of these necessities, the results can be dire.
Nadya Okamoto, creator and founder of student menstrual rights activism group ‘PERIOD.’ and student at Harvard University, travelled to Berkeley in order to organize the event. “I think the reason period poverty still exists today, even though menstruation has existed since the beginning of humankind, is because we don’t have an open dialogue,” she said.
Activists at the event aimed to make the topic public, calling for an end to the tax as well as for public institutions to provide menstrual products free of charge. “I think it’s really important to protest — there are a lot of people who struggle to have their voices heard because menstruation is such a taboo topic,” Lu said.
As such a loud voice in the fight for menstrual rights, Okamoto explained her motivation for taking a stand on this issue, saying, “I started this organization when I was 16, and I was really inspired by hearing stories about period poverty.” She also spoke on the limitations many women face because of inadequate access to menstrual products.
Schools with high rates of poverty in California are now required to provide menstrual products to students, and the California sales tax on them has been suspended for the duration of the two-year budget beginning in 2019.
Organizers of the event seek to build on these victories by promoting an open dialogue on these formerly hidden issues by continuing to protest and raise awareness. “People really need to carry out what they committed to, because that’s how we are going to make change,” Lu said. As activists like Okamoto and Lu continue to challenge legislators and governments around the world, they encourage supporters to take action as part of the menstrual movement.