Media Supermajority Education Fund

The Fight For Menstruation Equality Continues in 2020


California and Virginia rang in 2020 by becoming the latest states to tackle the so-called “tampon tax” — the colloquial term for the sales tax applied to menstrual products in most states in the country.

As of Jan. 1, all menstrual hygiene products and diapers are now exempt from sales tax in California. This new rule, which resulted from a revised state budget signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last year, however, is temporary for the next two years. New Year’s Day also marked the introduction of a dramatically lower sales tax rate on period products and diapers in Virginia to 2.5 percent after a new law took effect.

Eight states have eliminated sales tax on menstrual hygiene products thanks to years of activists’ work. “NPR called 2015 ‘the year of the period,” Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, the author of “Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity,” and the co-founder of the policy group Period Equity, told Supermajority News. “If anything [this activism] has gained more and more speed since then.”

One activist who has drawn attention to the period tax is Nadya Okamoto. In late 2014, when she was still in high school, Okamoto and her classmate Vincent Forand co-founded the group PERIOD, which advocates for the end of the tampon tax and the free distribution of menstrual hygiene products in schools, shelters, and prisons. Okamoto, now 21, said she became aware of the cost of having periods when her family went through a period of homelessness. “We heard stories directly from homeless women who were in much worse circumstances who said they used toilet paper and socks and cardboard [instead of pads and tampons].”

Okamoto soon realized that social media could help educate the public about this issue. “Now, with the rise and relevance of social media when we talk about it with people, maybe they’ve read something about it before, or maybe they’ve seen something on social media,” said Okamoto.

But while Okamoto says there has been an increase in awareness about the issue, there is still quite a ways to go in terms of public awareness — especially about the “tampon tax.” That’s why PERIOD has task forces devoted to educating consumers about the issue across the country.

“The biggest reaction we get when we tell people about the tampon tax is ‘oh my gosh I had no idea,’ and oftentimes legislators also have no idea,” said Okamoto. “I talk to legislators weekly who don’t know their state has a tampon tax. Because, first of all, it is not widely talked about, and second of all, it’s not widely questioned.”

Okamoto hopes that 2020 will be a turning point in that awareness, particularly as the impact of legislation like that passed in California and Virginia, take hold. “A majority of our states still have this tampon tax, but we have proven that it can be taken down,” Okamoto explained. “This is just the start.”