USF in D.C. is Unlike Anything Else!

 

14359150_1212586118761744_8730406698574531759_n (1)

Gabbi McDaniel

I left Washington, D.C. more than four months ago. Whenever anybody asks me about my experience, my first response continues to be, “it was the best experience I’ve had at USF.” Then I gush for five more minutes about the opportunities I had, the individuals I met, and the impact this program had on my academic and professional career. Over these past four years, I’ve been able to join multiple organizations on campus, volunteer throughout the city at non-profits doing incredible work, and even spend a semester studying abroad in Quito, Ecuador. I’m beyond grateful for all of those experiences, but the USF in D.C. program is unlike anything else.

When I was accepted into the USF in D.C. program, I was ecstatic. I knew that I’d have the opportunity to live in D.C. during the first presidential election I could vote in, gain hands-on experience with a full-time internship, and synthesize my academic background with real-world applications. However, I never anticipated just how well USF in D.C. would prepare me for my future professional endeavors and instill in me a passion for the intersections between sexual and reproductive rights, policy advocacy, and international development.

15355621_1290379407649081_7367171925237551636_n

During the fall semester, I interned at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). UNFPA is the lead UN agency addressing sexual and reproductive health, maternal health, gender-based violence, and child marriage in the context of international development and humanitarian settings. As the sole intern in the office, I had direct access to UNFPA DC’s Director and our Advocacy & Communications Specialist on a daily basis. Together, our team of three, consistently worked to advance UNFPA’s mission within the context of the US government. I had the opportunity to advocate with my colleagues before the Department of State and Congressional members; attend countless conferences with other NGOs and government institutions focused on these issues; and represent UNFPA at advocacy and strategy meetings. Every single day I was exposed to the complexities of advocacy and the fight for improving access to sexual and reproductive health care around the world. Throughout the semester, I was awe-inspired by the intelligent and determined women I worked alongside who used their privilege to fight for social justice.

Now, I’m finishing up my final semester at USF and yearning to get back to Washington, D.C. to continue this vital work. I’ve been able to use the knowledge I gained in D.C. in my Human Rights Advocacy course and my Gender, Development, and Globalization class. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are inextricably linked with economic justice, racial justice, human rights, and national security. As graduation draws nearer, I’m seeking opportunities within human rights advocacy, communications, and policy analysis, with a particular focus on sexual and reproductive health. The USF in DC program provided me with a foundation to pursue these career opportunities and I cannot thank the McCarthy Center, Betty L. Blakley Scholarship, the Newmark Fellowship,  USF in D.C. professors, and my UNFPA colleagues enough for my experience.

15241232_1290380064315682_488928576362899086_n (1)

OpEd: Should feminine hygiene products be subject to sales tax?

Image

 

rosen_2-2-e1491427642398

Bianca Rosen, MA Public Affairs ’17

In 40 states and the District of Columbia, women pay for having their periods. Literally. The sales tax in these states does not exempt feminine hygiene products as a necessity of life. Instead, these products are taxed like other luxury or non-essential items. In California, the sales tax exempts candy and Viagra, while taxing tampons, menstrual sponges, and pads. Women pay an extra price for their biological make up, as menstruation products are deemed by lawmakers as unnecessary to the, “…sustenance of life”. Across these 40 states, the sales tax on feminine hygiene products ranges from 2.9 to 7.5 percent according to the Tax Foundation. In California alone, the taxation of feminine hygiene products generates an estimated $20 million with a 7.5 percent sales tax. The Guide to Local Government Finance in California explains that medicine and groceries are included in the state sales tax exemption. In this instance, medicine is defined as, “any substance or preparation intended for use by external or internal application to the human body in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease and which is commonly recognized as a substance or preparation intended for that use”. In other words, menstruation is not considered a medical or health matter, and therefore feminine hygiene products are not a necessity of life.

Of the ten states that do not tax feminine hygiene products, five do not have a statewide sales tax and the other five including Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, have exempted these products from taxation. Across the country, in states like Utah, Michigan, Virginia, Wisconsin and California, there has been a push by activists and lawmakers to exempt feminine hygiene products from the sales tax. Specifically looking at California, the effort for a tax exemption was thwarted in September of 2016 when Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a “No Tax on Tampon Bill” put forth by Representative Cristina Garcia.

According to NPR, some lawmakers argue that, “presenting the issue as an instance of sexism may ignore the nuances and inconsistencies of state tax codes,” citing that an exemption for all women would require a nationwide exemption. Others, like Governor Jerry Brown, worry about the budget implications of such an exemption. When he vetoed the “no tampon tax” bill in 2016, he stated that a combined diaper and tampon tax exemption, “would reduce revenues by about $300 million through 2017-18.” Economist Nicole Kaeding from the Tax Foundation argues that “product-specific” tax exemptions raise the tax rates of other products. Furthermore, it can incite a mad dash by, other interest groups, to get more specific items exempt, creating chaos in state tax codes. If the stability of state tax codes rely on taxing women’s menstruation and preventing our “special interest” in controlling our period, we have a serious problem.

 

Taxing women for a bodily function that they cannot control is a gendered and discriminatory policy. Such a tax on feminine hygiene products also disproportionately affects low income women and girls. When living from paycheck to paycheck, the $7 to $10 dollars a month for tampons or pads, can really add up. On that same note, what do young girls in these low income families do when they get their period and don’t have access to these products? Most likely, they stay home, as some have told California Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia. This is not only about women’s health and well being, but equal access to to these products for all women.

151209123902-tampon-luxury-tax-780x439

As discussed in our course, Urban Public Finance, a large part of taxation is encouraging and discouraging certain behaviors. We tax tobacco consumption in order to discourage this behavior as well as to force smokers to pay for the damage this habit costs the healthcare system and the environment. This suggests that as a state, we do not value smoking. We think it does damage that needs to be paid for by those who cause it. In California, Viagra is tax exempt, as an Los Angeles Times editorial puts it, “Viagra is…dispensed to improve quality of life.” Not only do we value men’s erections as a necessity, but we validate its importance with a tax exemption. Feminine hygiene products lack such legitimacy. At the same time that opponents argue feminine hygiene products are not a necessity of life, I cannot imagine they would be okay with menstrual fluids staining the benches of public parks. Menstruation is a part of life for women and taking care of our periods is crucial in sustaining the quality and dignity of our lives. Until lawmakers and opponents of a “no tampon tax” have a period and walk around for a day without a tampon, they have no right to make women pay for having theirs.

Activists, organizers, and lawmakers in every state should continue advocating for a “no tampon tax.” Menstruation is also not a disease, as the tax code includes as a stipulation in the definition of medicine. We need to revisit how language in the tax code can be altered to better reflect the realities of women’s every day lives. The change we need on an even larger scale is more women in elected office. When President Obama was asked why he thinks there is no exemption for feminine hygiene products, he answered, “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws.” With more women in office, their understanding of what is and is not necessary in sustaining women’s lives can help to create policies that reflect those necessities.