While Maine has taken some steps to improve access to feminine hygiene products – including requiring that inmates in correctional facilities have free access to them and proposing elimination of the “tampon tax” – advocates say much more needs to be done.

The group Period.The Menstrual Movement is holding rallies across the country Saturday, including one in Portland from 3-4 p.m. at Congress Square Park.

Amanda DiFiore of Windham is one of the Maine organizers rallying for easier access to menstruation products.

“Period products are not easily accessible to everyone,” DiFiore said. “This is kind of a human rights issue. There needs to be equal opportunity for everyone to be clean and able to function.”

One of the targets for national and state groups organizing the event is to make the products exempt from sales taxes – 5.5 percent in Maine. Many health products, such as prescription drugs, hearing aids and medical supplies for diabetics, are exempt from sales tax.

A bill by Rep. Denise Tepler, D-Topsham, to eliminate the sales tax on feminine hygiene products was passed by the House this year, but did not receive funding. The bill – which would cost the state about $800,000 per year in tax revenue – was carried over and will be considered in January.

Only 15 states currently exempt feminine hygiene products from sales tax, according to the Period.The Menstrual Movement’s website.

Tepler said Wednesday she’s not sure of the bill’s prospects in January, but is hopeful.

“This is an issue of fairness,” Tepler said. “The products are absolute necessities. There is no equivalent product for men. It’s unfair and discriminatory.”

Low-income women and adolescents are most affected by lack of access.

“Women who are forced to use unclean feminine hygiene products or do not change as frequently as necessary can develop more serious health problems,” said Janis Hogan, a school nurse from Belfast who was Maine School Nurse of the Year for 2018-19, in testimony before the taxation committee in March.

Kelsey Riordan of Portland, another organizer of Saturday’s rally, said many people don’t want to discuss women’s menstrual cycles, even though half the population experiences them.

“The first reaction people have when you mention menstruation is ‘ewww’ and that stops the conversation right there,” Riordan said. “People are often reluctant to ask for help.”

Riordan said she would like to see better access to menstrual products in schools and homeless shelters.

“It’s one of the least donated items to homeless shelters,” Riordan said.

 

 

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