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What is a ‘tampon tax’? Meet the Austin high schoolers challenging state fee

Hannah Cukierman, Naiya Vasquez-Castañeda and Jane Fulton started Period Pals, an initiative aimed at combatting period poverty and increasing access to menstrual products in Austin.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — During the summer of 2020 and with an excess of free time on her hands, Austin resident Jane Fulton started brainstorming ways she could give back to her community during a time of immense need.

Alongside friends Hannah Cukierman and Naiya Vasquez-Castañeda, the trio launched Period Pals, a nonprofit aimed at addressing period poverty in the city, one pad at a time.

“Period poverty” is defined as the lack of financial access to pads, tampons or other menstrual products, according to the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. For Fulton, Vasquez-Castañeda and Cukierman — now seniors at Austin ISD’s Liberal Arts and Science Academy and Anderson High School — they said the pandemic accelerated menstrual inequity in the city due to heightened unemployment levels and financial insecurity.

“While we can provide people with period products, we definitely want it to create a big enough change to where people can just afford it, period.”

NAIYA VASQUEZ-CASTAÑEDA, SENIOR, AUSTIN ISD’S LIBERAL ARTS AND SCIENCE ACADEMY

“I definitely feel like we as three people have been above the period poverty issue, but the work we’ve done as an organization has led us to see that firsthand, in donating to homeless shelters,” Cukierman said. “And then at Anderson, I see students in the bathrooms every week when I restock, and they’re like, ‘thank you so much. This has helped me so much.’”

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While financial inaccessibility is a leading factor behind menstrual inequity, social stigmas have also factored into how much personal knowledge people have about their periods and the inequities that might come with them, the three said. That’s where period packing parties have come into play.

At period packing parties, a group of volunteers compile menstrual products in what the three have dubbed a “period goody bag.” These have been distributed to organizations like The SAFE Alliance and Out Youth, which support victims of child exploitation and domestic violence as well as queer youth in Austin, respectively.

Collectively, more than 10,000 individual menstrual products have been donated as part of the initiative. However, the goal of the group extends beyond the confines of the city, they said.

The trio has also hosted letter writing initiatives to local representatives advocating for the removal of the “tampon tax,” an 8.25% tax tacked onto menstrual products. Access to menstrual products should be a right for people with periods, not a privilege, Vasquez-Castañeda said.

“While we can provide people with period products, we definitely want it to create a big enough change to where people can just afford it, period,” she said.

Written by Kelsey Thompson

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