Three Westminster students are collecting feminine hygiene products for homeless populations in Salt Lake City during February with a Student Leaders in Civic Engagement (SLICE) grant from Westminster’s Center for Civic Engagement.
Rosanise Odell, Esther Daranciang and Sarah Abbott went through the process with the Center for Civic Engagement to receive the $500 grant shortly after winter break last year. The three first came up with the idea during the holidays, when the Center for Civic Engagement was collecting items for its giving tree fundraiser, and they noticed that many of the requested items were for feminine hygiene products.
“I was freaking out, like, ‘Why do so many people need these?’” said Abbott, sophomore nursing major. “‘People should just have these. This is ridiculous.’ And then we just got amped on it and got back from Christmas Break and were like, ‘Okay. We want to help those who are needy, and also why is there a sales tax?’”
In addition to collecting donations for feminine hygiene products, the trio also attempted to raise awareness and lobby for Utah House Bill 202—known as the “Hygiene Tax Act”—which would have provided tax exemptions for tampons and pads. An all-male committee in the legislative session voted 8-3 to block the bill on Feb. 10, according to reporting from KUTV.
“Period products are not deemed as necessities and they’re taxed, which is ridiculous because women can’t do anything about that,” said Odell, sophomore environmental science major.
If the bill had been passed, the Utah legislative budget staff said the state would lose more than $1.3 million in tax dollars in 2017 and that the amount would increase to more than $1.6 million in 2018, according to KSL News.
“Period products are expensive as it is, and single mothers who have multiple daughters—or homeless people—they can’t afford these and they need these,” Abbot said. “It’s just kind of ridiculous, and we feel like if we were in a matriarchal society there wouldn’t be a sales tax.”
The three students were ready to lobby for the bill in the legislative session, but they never had the chance. They have since turned their full attention to collecting donations for feminine hygiene kits for needy populations in Salt Lake City.
The group plans on collecting donations until the end of February and will use the $500 SLICE grant to purchase more products to create the kits. They plan to distribute the kits to the Road Home and the YWCA, as well as on an individual basis in order to talk to women, find out how they deal with menstruation without a home, and learn how best the group can offer help.
“If you’re a homeless female and you get your period and you can’t afford to buy pads and tampons…a lot of times they use socks or tissue from McDonald’s bathrooms, which is just horrible,” Odell said. “And then they don’t have access to facilities to clean or take showers or anything. In addition to the fact that they can’t access the products, they also don’t have access to facilities.”
Abbott said it’s important to keep raising awareness for this issue because the way menstruation is stigmatized in American culture prevents society from addressing issues like these.
“It’s just this taboo thing that we don’t talk about and we don’t think about,” she said. “Most people don’t have any clue, but anyone we’ve talked to has been pretty awesome about it and we’ve got a few donations. I think it’s a little taboo and weird for some of the males and females, too. It’s just such a stigmatized thing.”
Although House Bill 202 didn’t make it through the legislative session this year, Odell said she thinks it’s important for women to keep seeking equal representation in the legislature and to lobby for issues that are important to them, as they were planning on doing.
“[Men] don’t think about it, obviously. It’s not a monthly concern for them, and they just don’t have any personal ties to it,” Odell said. “Half of the world is male, but more than half is controlling the legislation.”