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Arkansas Period Poverty Project leaders discuss menstrual equity, awareness

In some New York City schools, the bathroom dispensers provide sanitary products for free.
Richard Yeh/WNYC
A proposed ballot measure would exempt diapers and menstrual products from sales and use tax in Arkansas.

A group of activists is trying to remove Arkansas’ statewide tax on menstrual hygiene products and diapers – and raising awareness about the stigma surrounding periods as they go.

Leaders of the Arkansas Period Poverty Project shared why they’re putting forward a ballot measure to exempt those products from the state sales and use tax at a menstrual hygiene awareness discussion Tuesday. The project’s founder, Katie Clark, says kids in Arkansas schools don’t learn everything they need to know about periods.

“Menstrual education is uncommon in Arkansas.” Clark told attendees. “Many young people are unfamiliar with the menstrual cycle which, as we’ve seen, leads to adults who are unfamiliar with the menstrual cycle.”

Clark has spent the last six years advocating for legislation to make pads and tampons exempt from state tax, but so far these attempts haven’t led to significant reforms. That’s why she’s now gathering signatures to put the issue on the ballot.

“It is a lot of work,” Clark said. “But we’ve found that folks are really interested. We know that with other ballot measures happening right now there are other groups out there trying to bring them down and prevent signings from happening, but thankfully ours is a very nonpartisan and bipartisan effort.”

Clark says, of the few people who have pushed back against the measure, most don’t understand how expensive menstrual products and diapers can be. Along with making these products more accessible, Clark also wants to normalize conversations about periods.

“Everyone should know about the menstrual cycle. We’re all here because of periods, so it’s really important that we all know more about it.”

Clark says there’s a strong stigma around menstrual cycles that gets in the way of finding solutions to period-related problems. She hopes getting the word out about the ballot initiative and educating more communities helps to change that stigma.

Nadya Okamoto is the co-founder of August, a menstrual hygiene products company. Okamoto says, over the past ten years, 20 states in the U.S. have stopped taxing menstrual products.

“Period products specifically have this tax because they’re considered non-essential, so people are like, ‘well, why should this be tax-free?’”

Last year, Okamoto started an initiative to refund tampon taxes to customers who purchase August products in states that tax menstrual products. According to Okamoto, Arkansans are some of the most frequent users of the refund program.

A 2021 report from the Arkansas Bureau of Legislative Research said menstruating Arkansans spend over $1 million each year on just the period product tax.

The “Act to exempt Feminine Hygiene Products and Diapers from Sales and Use Tax” will need over 72,000 signatures to appear on the ballot in November. The organization has just over one month to submit the signatures to Secretary of State John Thurston's office.

Maggie Ryan is a reporter and local host of All Things Considered for Little Rock Public Radio.