By Leah Ruggiere
In the last couple of weeks, I noticed a 6% sales tax on my receipt for tampons at Goucher’s Bookstore. This surprised me because I knew about Maryland’s state law that exempts feminine hygiene products from state sales tax. I felt an urge to do something about this because I feel it is unjust for women to be taxed on these products. The Maryland government’s website for taxes, Comptroller of Maryland, states that they exempt feminine hygienic products from sales tax, sanitary napkins, and tampons. The law was put into effect in July of 2017 by the Department of Legislative Services on sales and use of tax, hygienic aids, and exemption.
When I notified the cashier at the Goucher Bookstore about this issue, he contacted a representative of Barnes and Noble, the company that operates the bookstore. The representative said they were unaware of this policy change and subsequently managed to make a system update to begin compliance with the new law for all stores in Maryland. Within a week, the cashier was also able to remove tax from the products. It was an issue resolved easily. He informed me of the policy change by stating, “Once the register is updated it takes the tax off and it won’t process the item anymore as a taxable item.”
Women’s menstrual cycles are taxing enough from the pain and efforts to maintain hygiene. As Goucher College Student Allie Sklarew, Class of 2019, posed, “I would feel like if I was taxed for these products, it’s a complete insult to women saying something that is natural to your body is somehow a horrible thing.” Before I noticed this issue at Goucher, I had already begun research on feminine hygienic tax issues. The Washington Post article titled, “The ‘Tampon Tax, Explained” stated, “tampons [and similar products] are tax-exempt in only a handful of states, including Maryland and New Jersey.” The image below displays certain states that exempt feminine products from sales tax (Fusion, 2015).
June 2015 “tampon tax” map, used with permission from Washington Post. (Courtesy of Fusion)
When it’s a woman’s time of the month, these products are a necessity. “It is not a choice to have our menstrual cycle so to be charged is unethical and unjust.” Goucher College student, Maria Kyriakakos, Class of 2019, states her opinion on the matter, “I think just having that natural occurrence doesn’t mean that we should be priced.” To buy feminine hygienic products are under no choice and menstrual health care is pricey as well as limiting in access. The Rewire states that, “Feminine products are a $2 billion industry in the United States alone.” Purchasing these various products such as tampons and sanitary napkins are a monthly necessity.
The amount for these products adds up as USA Today states, “The average woman spends $150-$300 a year on feminine hygiene disposables.” Women who are low income, homeless, or incarcerated can suffer. The price of poor menstrual hygiene can be devastating, even deadly. The Times states that, “It is linked to high rates of cervical cancer in India; in developing countries, infections caused by use of filthy, unwashed rags are rampant.”
Luckily enough, Maryland exempts these products while most states do not. Thankfully, this problem was quickly resolved on Goucher’s campus. Being able to settle the issue shows how we can all make steps towards change while faced with injustice using assertiveness, curiosity, and research.