'Powers that be'

Congressman made stunning discovery when he tried to expense $37 worth of tampons for his office

U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney of New York. (YouTube)

Let’s talk about “menstrual equity.”

Activists are pushing the idea, which focuses on equal access to hygiene products in correctional facilities, shelters, and schools, and educating women about reproductive health, and some strides are actually being made. The Justice Department ordered federal prisons to provide inmates with free products last year — although it’s kind of shocking that was previously not the case.

People are also advocating to exempt menstrual hygiene products from sales tax under the idea that they are a necessity — not a luxury good. New York, Illinois, Florida, and Connecticut have recently abolished sales tax on menstrual products, but that still leaves 36 states that charge a little extra for tampons and pads. Luckily, lawmakers in two dozen of those states have introduced bills to stop the tax, according to The New York Times. Canada outlawed sales tax on the products in 2015, and recently so has Kenya and Uganda.

The fight is even reaching the bathrooms of U.S. Congressmen. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from New York, tweeted last month that his office bought tampons for female visitors and staff — and was told by the Committee on House Administration that they couldn’t use funds — a grand total of $37 — to purchase the products. Maloney denounced “the powers that be” for the flagrant sexism that dictates what is allowed to be written off in the Congressional budget.

Media coverage around menstruation has increased in recent years—Kiran Gandhi famously ran the London Marathon without wearing a pad or tampon and bled freely through the finish line. She said at the time, “Women’s bodies are supposed to constantly be ready for public consumption … The second that [I do] something that is not necessarily about [another person’s] comfort, or about their enjoyment of my body, it makes everyone so deeply uncomfortable.”

The push for advocacy also comes on the heels of technological advancements that promise to make periods — or at least self-care around periods — more tolerable. The period-tracking app Clue has 2.5 million users, and many women are turning to period coaches to help with pain management and to learn about hormonal changes.

As Karen Zraick points out in the Times, “the average woman has her period for 2,535 days of her life.” Isn’t it about time to make women’s health a priority? Well, some are already doing that, on their own dime.

In the weeks after Maloney, the Congressman from New York, tweeted about having to write a $37 check to cover the cost of feminine hygiene products, which the Committee on House Administration, refused to pay, an inspiring thing happened. Women from around the country began sending Maloney’s office tampons and sanitary pads. It was about a half-dozen people total who donated, according to a follow-up video posted by the Congressman, but it was more than his office needed. Maloney then went ahead and donated the surplus feminine hygiene products, some 500 in all, to other Congressional offices. Some equal but opposite “powers that be” sure made for a pleasant surprise.

Read the full story on The New York Times.

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