By OLIVIA LEHMAN
Quick, easy and affordable access to menstrual products is essential for those who rely on them. Tampons and sanitary napkins are the most common products but are also subject to a hefty sales tax, despite Virginia law which states, “medical products used to treat or prevent diseases can be tax-exempt,” as cited in a Capitol News article. In fact, products such as medicine, eyeglasses and firewood are already excluded from the same tax. Although this is not only a women’s issue— there are plenty of women who don’t menstruate and men who do—this is a clear disparity which disproportionately and negatively impacts women at large.
Across most of Virginia, tampons, sanitary napkins, and menstrual cups are all taxed at a rate of 5.3 percent up to 6 percent in Northern Virginia, according to Capital News. Removing this tax would save women and others who need them at least a hundred dollars annually. That money could instead be put towards savings, investments, education and anything else rather than taxing products that are a known necessity.
For a university that is 64 percent women according to US News, it’s understandable that the Mary Washington Student Government Association implemented a new campaign providing limited free pads and tampons back in the spring of 2017. SGA placed baskets in three women’s bathrooms on campus: the third floor of the Hurley Convergence Center, the third floor of the University Center, and on the first floor of the Fitness Center.
For students who struggle to balance university tuition, classes, work, relationships, this idea is a fantastic one to reduce stress. People who menstruate don’t always know when they will need a tampon or pad in a pinch; it’s reassuring that there are some available nearby for free. However, there are some clear flaws in the current way the products are managed.
The baskets themselves are in limited, inconvenient and frankly, odd locations around campus— a complaint raised by many students. “They are in super obscure places where they’re difficult to find. Nobody uses the third-floor bathroom in the UC. I have to go on an expedition to find a menstrual product in an emergency,” said senior psychology major Serena Freeman.
Even if you are lucky enough to find one of the three bathrooms on campus that these baskets are located, an even worse issue presents itself: an empty basket.
I have gone to both the bathroom in the Fitness Center and the HCC to find bare baskets. Senior Katherine Bartles echoed this experience: “Every time I’ve gone to the HCC or the UC the baskets have always been empty. I’ve never seen them full.”
The baskets are hardly the resource they claim to be if they are not restocked on a consistent basis, despite SGA’s reassurance that they are refilled multiple times a week. Once the baskets are filled, the fact remains that they reside exclusively in women’s restrooms. This makes them inaccessible to men or nonbinary people who need the products.
Considering the number of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus which they could be placed in, this is unacceptable.
When asked about plans to combat student critiques, SGA president Matthew Good outlined plans for the program to grow in the future. “This is only the second year the program has been operational, and we’ve only expanded,” claimed Good. He also stated the SGA is “limited in what we can provide by state regulations and cost…”. Good said that they are looking at possibly adding the Nest and/or moving them around to be in gender-neutral bathrooms, if possible.
This should not be a tentative move but a decisive one to better accommodate students. Spreading out products in a few specific, yet varied in both location and gender-assignment, bathrooms throughout campus would allow access and prevent the concentration of them to one or two awkward and unsuspecting places.
Since menstrual products are not currently affordable or available for all people in our state, the SGA is attempting to support us where our state is currently failing. However, this support cannot be conditional. In order to adequately provide the crucial resource that menstrual products are, the SGA needs to reevaluate their plan and implement a rapid and sustainable expansion of the program. This time around with all students’ needs in mind.