The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Students collect feminine products for homeless

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(Photo by Carolyn Duff / The DePaulia)

Two separate fundraisers organized by current and former DePaul students collected female hygiene products to donate to homeless and women’s shelters last month. Both fundraisers were small and grassroots, but they joined the nationwide movement drawing attention to taxes on women’s products and the struggle for underprivileged women to acquire them.

DePaul alumna Rima Mandwee was the leading force behind Code Red, a fundraiser in Kalamazoo, Michigan sponsored by the Junior League of Kalamazoo, a women’s organization that volunteers to empower women in the community. Mandwee organized the fundraiser that donated tampons, pads and money to two local homeless shelters that lost government funding for feminine products.

“This issue is important because it is unrecognized,” Mandwee said. “Every single woman will menstruate in her lifetime. Half of the population needs the product, yet it gets taxed as a luxury item and it is not included in budgets for homeless shelters.”

The “tampon tax” Mandwee is referring to made headlines earlier this year when California State assembly woman Cristina Garcia introduced legislation to combat a sales tax levied on women’s products, a report by the Washington Post said. Earlier this month, Illinois legislators also advanced Senate Bill 2746 that would exempt women’s hygiene products from the state sales tax.

Currently, the state-level tax on feminine products is 6.25 percent, while in Chicago it’s 10.25 percent, according to Illinois Senator Melinda Bush’s website. Bush introduced the bill and it has moved into the Senate and is being considered.

“Let’s face it, women already make less money,” Bush said in a press release. “They shouldn’t be having to pay taxes like this on something that is a personal necessity.”

Mandwee’s fundraiser collected $565 and 284 boxes of tampons and pads, but a significant challenge was getting people to donate.

“As much as the response was great, people still didn’t donate, and we realized it’s because women’s product is expensive,” Mandwee said. With each box ranging between $5 to $7, even a $75 gift card donated by a local grocer was only able to buy less than a dozen boxes.

“A dozen boxes is nothing for a woman’s shelter,” Mandwee said. “That would be gone in a week. It’s just a constant need and there will never be enough for these shelters.”

“Normally you think of food or clothes. Women’s products are expensive over time and hard to access. I think it’s just an area of need that’s not normally addressed.”

Amanda Bogle, president of the Loyola chapter of LSRJ

According to the American Pregnancy Association, a woman will have about 465 periods in her life, and on average, a period lasts three to five days. With the 10.25 percent tax in Chicago, an 18-pack box of Tampax tampons costs $6.38, meaning that over the course of a lifetime, a woman would pay on average about $3,232 in tampons alone, not adjusted for inflation. The total cost for feminine products varies widely because most women also dole out money for pads, pain relief pills, birth control to manage extreme periods, new underwear once old ones are stained by their period and special face wash or medication to treat acne caused by premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Abigail Durkin is the president of Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) at DePaul and lead organizer of the on-campus fundraiser for female products, Menstrual Madness. She said collecting tampons and pads for women isn’t just a matter of economics, it’s about respecting women’s dignity. Durkin is very familiar with the “tampon tax,” but she said people’s focus on it can distract from the bigger picture.

“(The ‘tampon tax’) is a huge issue, but it goes way beyond the tax,” Durkin said. “The cost of and lack of access to these products is a far greater burden on some than it is on others.  Simply put, that’s just not fair. Women, regardless of income, deserve equal access to these products. This fundraiser, though a small effort, attempts to make that dream a reality.”

DePaul’s chapter of LSRJ partnered with DePaul OUTlaws, an LGBT law advocacy group, and the Loyola chapter of LSRJ. Durkin said they collected more than 300 boxes of supplies and almost $600, which will go towards buying feminine products in bulk for the two shelters benefitting from the fundraiser. Durkin preferred to keep the names of the shelters anonymous. Amanda Bogle, president of the Loyola chapter of LSRJ, said they collected about $275 in donations and a few boxes of products.

“These products aren’t something that people normally think of that women need,” Bogle said. “Normally you think of food or clothes. Women’s products are expensive over time and hard to access. I think it’s just an area of need that’s not normally addressed.”

Mandwee said most often in marketing the fundraiser, she had to remind people of the burden a period has on homeless women.

“I had one man ask me, ‘So, like, if you weren’t doing this and collecting product, then like, what would they do?’” Mandwee said. “ … I said, ‘Nothing. They would bleed on themselves.’ He made a face and gave me $20.”

Overall, women pay more for healthcare. According to a study by Health Services Research, women pay one third more in health care costs due to women’s longer average life span and sex-specific health care costs like childbirth and pregnancy. Women even tend to pay more for products that are used by both sexes. According to Consumer Reports Magazine, women can pay up to 50 percent more for products like body wash, razors, pain reliever and shaving cream.

“Women have been trained to feel that periods are taboo, not to be spoken of and, that it makes people uncomfortable,” Mandwee said. “But half of the population has a period and therefore aren’t uncomfortable hearing about it.”

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