Our tax laws still classify tampons and other feminine hygiene products as “luxury products.”
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Now that we can say “period shaming” in polite company, “menstruation mindfulness” has become standard fare in mainstream magazines, and feminine hygiene ads even use red liquid now instead of blue, it would appear that we’ve overcome our general discomfort with the bodily process experienced by a majority of the human population known as menstruation. Yet even if the symbols of social progress are there (and that’s debatable), it would appear our institutions and systems have yet to catch up.
Until now, the Federal Bureau of Prisons had no policies requiring prisons to provide feminine hygiene products to inmates — most inmates had to purchase them with the meager wages they made working prison jobs. That, however, will be changing, as the bureau issued a memorandum this week mandating that inmates not only have access to free period products but a wide range of them, including pads and liners.
"Wardens have the responsibility to ensure female hygiene products such as tampons or pads are made available for free in sufficient frequency and number," Bureau spokesperson Justin Long wrote in an email to CNN. "Prior to the [memo], the type of products provided was not consistent, and varied by institution."
In part, that’s because our tax laws still classify tampons and other feminine hygiene products as “luxury products.” This legal classification makes those products more expensive for those who need them but severely limits access for homeless or incarcerated people, who have to rely on government agencies and nonprofit organizations that adopt this legal language to determine the priority of providing tampons and pads to the people they serve. It’s not just the Federal Bureau of Prisons that has restricted access to period management products, but schools and homeless shelters. This new development will do much to change attitudes toward reproductive and period health that still regard those concepts as a “luxury” and not a basic human necessity.