Activists rallied Monday at the California state capitol building in Sacramento to push for a bill ending the state tax on tampons and other menstrual products.
The bill, introduced earlier this year, would exempt tampons and pads from state sales tax. The legislation's authors, Assemblymembers Cristina Garcia (D) and Ling Ling Chang (R), are now working on an amendment to add more female health products, such as cups and sponges, to the no-tax list.
In 40 states, including California, tampons, pads and similar products are subject to sales tax, which generally means that they're not classified as necessities.
About 75 people showed up for Monday's rally, including students from UCLA, Fresno State and Sacramento State, according to Garcia.
The bill, which would save California women an estimated $20 million annually and was endorsed by a critical state tax board, was set to be reviewed by the state Assembly's Revenue and Taxation Committee on Monday. If the bill clears the committee, it will go on to the full assembly for consideration.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Garcia said she hoped the buzz around her bill and similar efforts across the country would help women realize that menstruation is not something to be ashamed of.
"I thought it was time to have this discussion, to start bringing it out of the shadows," Garcia said. "I'm tired of being taxed for being a woman."
In addition to making the tax code more equitable, she hopes her bill will help ease "the burden of having a period." Garcia noted that sometimes girls have to miss school because they can't afford a box of tampons and that homeless women can be reduced to using newspaper because they can't buy menstrual products.
She stressed that lawmakers should think of these goods not as "feminine hygiene" items, but as medical necessities.
"The state of California should not be in the business of putting a tax on half the population because they were born as women," she said.
Garcia added that she plans to explore other ways to increase access, such as funding for homeless shelters and public schools to provide free tampons. She's also encouraging women to ask their employers to make tampons and pads available at work.
Several other states, including Michigan and New York, are currently weighing bills similar to California's. And in Ohio, women have filed a class action lawsuit seeking a refund for taxes paid on tampons and pads.
Meanwhile, Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) has taken the fight to the federal level. Earlier this year, she introduced legislation that would allow women to use their pre-tax health care spending accounts to buy tampons, pads and other such products. She also successfully lobbied the Federal Emergency Management Agency to include these products in the list of goods that homeless shelters can purchase with federal grants.
"Feminine hygiene products are not luxury items," Meng said in a March statement. "These products are costly and necessary items that women must pay for over much of their lifetime."
There's also been major progress overseas. Canada lifted its tampon tax last year, becoming the first country to do so. In March, the United Kingdom moved to abolish the country's 5 percent tax on tampons and pads, following a European Union vote that would allow countries to lift current taxes on menstrual hygiene products. And there are campaigns to take down the tax in several other countries, including Australia, France and Malaysia.
The issue has even drawn the support of President Barack Obama, who was asked about the tampon tax in a January interview.
"I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed," he told YouTube star Ingrid Nilsen. "And I think it’s pretty sensible for women in those states ... to get those taxes removed."