Addressing the uncomfortable but necessary topic of hygiene

by Jessica Garvin

One of the issues I’m going to continue working on is period poverty in our state. I know this is an uncomfortable topic, but it’s one that not only impacts women and families financially, but it’s a major health concern for low-income and homeless women. Feminine hygiene products are a monthly necessity and an expensive one, and given that half of Oklahoma’s population is female, this is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Feminine hygiene products are not covered in federal assistance programs and are only tax exempt in 18 states. I want Oklahoma to be the 19th to provide a sales tax exemption for this life necessity. 

Ongoing supply chain issues are driving the price of these already expensive products even higher. According to Bloomberg, the tampon supply is down about 60%, and those that are available cost around 10% more, while pads are over 8% higher. It’s estimated that a woman spends about $20 a month on these necessities, which is why I’d like to pass a tax exemption to provide Oklahoma women and their families some relief. Remember, there are families with multiple daughters or other females living with them so that monthly expense is multiplied.

This year, a Senate taskforce has been formed to look at proposed tax reforms and I’ll be presenting my idea to the members. As I said this is not only a financial issue, but a health and quality of life issue. 

Let’s start with our youth—studies have found that many female students who don’t have access to feminine hygiene products would prefer to skip school while on their period than risk having an embarrassing accident or ruining their clothes.

A 2019 study by Thinx and Period of teenage girls 13 to 19 found that 20%, or one in five, can’t afford menstrual hygiene products. Two-thirds of them said they felt stress because they didn’t have access to tampons and pads, 61% said they wore tampons more than four hours, 25% missed class because they didn’t have these necessities, and 83% thought lack of access wasn’t talked about enough.

Some use items like socks or newspapers, which is uncomfortable and can cause unnecessary anxiety. In other reports, girls said they reused their products, which is extremely dangerous and can lead to deadly toxic shock syndrome (TSS), or bacterial or fungal infections, among other issues. Students have enough to worry about besides their periods—we could easily remove this stress for Oklahoma girls. States like Illinois, California, and New Hampshire have mandated that these products be made available in all public schools.

These same health concerns extend to Oklahoma’s homeless and low-income women. Instead of missing school, though, they skip work, and for hourly employees that means they don’t get paid and risk losing their job. 

Something must be done. There are around 850,000 Oklahoma women and girls between the ages of 12 and 44 and one in five live below the federal poverty line. Some 49% of our female students in grades 7 to 12 attend Title I eligible schools. 

I’ll be sharing this information with the Senate’s tax reform taskforce because Oklahoma women deserve better and shouldn’t have to skip school or work or be stressed and embarrassed because they can’t afford these life necessities. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue.        

Please write to Senator Jessica Garvin, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 237, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105, email me or call (405) 521-5522.