When you think of luxury goods, you may think of things like iPhones, new cars or diamonds. What you probably didn't think of were tampons, pads or other menstrual products.

In the state of Missouri, however, they're subject to what menstruation rights advocates call the 'tampon tax.' On Saturday, MU students gathered as part of a national movement to change that. 

"(Periods) are not something that you get to choose whether or not you do," Jane Mather-Glass, an MU student, said. "You shouldn't have to pay more just because your body does something involuntarily." 

The rally, which took place in Speakers Circle, was organized by Period @ Mizzou. The event was part of a larger national movement: National Period Day. The first national event saw 55 rallies in all 50 states, including two in Missouri. Other organizations, such as Associated Students of the University of Missouri, Mizzou Democrats and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Mizzou, also helped support the event. 

Erica Overfelt, president and co-founder of Period @ Mizzou, said people often forget about issues that affect people who menstruate and assume menstruation is just a women's issue. 

"People always forget that not only women menstruate, and there's so much beyond that. Nonbinary people (and) trans people all menstruate, and that's something we strived to make very clear in our overall organization and the rally."

Rally attendee Annie Stollenwerck said the rally's message is especially important because people who menstruate face stigmatization from a young age.

"Every time I think of what Period @ Mizzou does, I think of when I was in middle school, and we had our talk," Stollenwerck said. "Our nurse came in and was like, 'If you ever get your period, just come to my office and say your Aunt Charlotte is in town.' Why do we have to ashamed of it? Why can't we just ask for a tampon?"

Stollenwerck's experience is all too familiar for people who rely on menstrual products.

In a speech to those gathered at the rally, Overfelt said she'd had many people approach her and tell her that their school nurse told them to hide their periods and made menstruating seem shameful. Part of the rally's mission was to challenge that stigma.

Sunshine Kelleher, the external relations chair for Period @ Mizzou, said the organization also works with local nonprofits to help combat lack of access to menstrual products. She said Period @ Mizzou has collected more than 15,700 period products since it started. The group donates those products to True North, a residential facility for domestic violence survivors, and Tiger Pantry, a food bank for the MU community. 

Kelleher said Homeless Project Connect also came to speak to the group about the intersection of menstruation equality and homelessness. 

Taxing menstrual products makes them more expensive, and Period @ Mizzou's Facebook page cited a statistic that said 46% of low-income people who menstruate had to choose between a meal and period products.

There were several bills introduced in the last legislative session that aimed to lower the sales tax on menstrual products, but none made it into law. One, sponsored by Rep. Jim Neely, R-Cameron, sought to make the tax on menstrual products no higher than the tax on food. 

Overfelt said Period @ Mizzou will continue to work with Associated Students of the University of Missouri lobbying to lower taxes on menstrual products. Natalie Butler, the executive director of the student group, said the group lobbied last year to lower the tax to about 1.25%.  

"We were proud to partner with Period to work on legislation to reduce the tax on menstrual products," Butler said. "We're really excited to do more with Erica and Period again this year, and we hope to get this bill passed this year."

  • State Government reporter, fall 2019 Studying investigative journalism Reach me at eew3pr@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700

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