Ria Agarwal: Imbalance of power keeps tampon tax intact

(Rich Pedroncelli | AP file photo) Every year in Utah, menstruators have to pay an arbitrary tax on tampons and pads due to their status as “luxury” items.

Do you think Utah is a progressive state? Well, I hate to put a tamp on your enthusiasm, but I’m afraid that's not the case.

Every year in Utah, menstruators have to pay an arbitrary tax on tampons and pads due to their status as “luxury” items. On top of the cramps, hormonal changes and bleeding, the tax allows our bodies to be used for profit. But how, specifically, does the tampon tax affect families in Utah?

Families with a lower income cannot always afford tampons or pads; in fact, the average menstruator spends roughly $1,773.33 on only tampons in a lifetime. However, tampons are just one piece of the period pie. Menstruators might also require pain relievers, heating pads, acne medication and birth control. The Huffington Post estimates the total cost of your period over a lifetime to be $18,171.

Legislators could lessen these costs, but instead, they capitalize on our cramps, hormonal changes and bleeding for profit. This action solidifies the gendered power imbalance in schools and in society. This power imbalance is especially prominent in states like Utah, which persistently refuse to reform the tampon tax.

Our legislators have no reason not to get rid of the tampon tax other than a sincere lack of understanding of the realities faced by people who have periods. For the past two years, Utah state Rep. Susan Duckworth has sponsored House Bill 71, the Hygiene Tax Act, which aims to remove taxes on feminine hygiene products and diapers. The act has failed in committee both times.

If you looked at the numbers, you would not understand why, either. Duckworth’s legislation would cost $1.7 million, which is only about 0.001 percent of the state’s total tax revenue. It would also ban taxes on diapers, which means that the bill would not only save almost $1,000 for women in taxes on feminine hygiene products, but also $50 a year for families with young children, and $82 a year for those with incontinence.

For a state that prioritizes family values, it seems hypocritical to neglect helping families deal with these expenses.

The committee’s refusal to pass the Hygiene Tax Act this past February spurred headlines saying “Utah lawmakers, all-male, kill ‘tampon tax’ bill” (KUTV) and “Only men will debate the ‘tampon tax’ in Utah” (CBS News) and “In an Unsurprising Move, a Bunch of Men in Utah Vote to Keep the Tampon Tax” (The Cut). These headlines highlight how only men were involved in the decision to reject HB71.

Our legislators’ reasons for rejecting the bill varied from a concern about the one-time tax burden stores would face in reprogramming their systems to disapproval of special tax exemptions. The media emphasized the gender of panel members to demonstrate how they didn’t reject the bill because of “completely valid” economic concerns, but because of their ignorance.

This is where you and I come in. One of the most effective ways to help legislators understand how the tampon tax compounds the difficulties of menstruation is to raise their awareness. If we talk about how taxing period products affects not only women but also Utah’s reputation of gender inequality, then our legislators will realize the tampon tax is more than a minor inconvenience. So, I want to encourage everyone to think about the tampon tax and question if Utah’s priorities are straight.

While I’m at it, I also want to encourage high school and college students to think about how they can help.

Although we can try, we can never make today’s male representatives completely understand the feeling of an aching uterus or mood swings. However, we can teach future generations to live in a world where constant and affordable access to period products is the norm.

As getting rid of the tax will only affect parents and adults, we need a solution that directly affects students: free period products in school restrooms. We have to encourage this movement among the youngest Utahns, as they will foster the most progress.

Our country has seen gun violence and LGBTQ+ movements grow from infancy to legislation, and this progress was led by teenagers. Increasing accessibility to period products is yet another area where youth activism can make real change for society. Getting rid of the tampon tax is an important first step for making this happen.

Ria Agarwal

Ria Agarwal is a senior at Rowland Hall High School and an intern at Alliance for a Better Utah.