Protesters rally outside Capitol on first National Period Day

Sanchez’s call to action was met with vociferous affirmation and ardent support from a crowd waving signs with battle cries like, “Stop taxing my vagina!” and “There will be blood!”

As 59 other rallies across the nation on Saturday advocated for widespread period product access and an end to the tampon tax, rallygoers in the nation’s capital also demanded Congress address reports of migrant women in detention centers near the U.S.-Mexico border denied period products and bleeding through their clothing.

“Less often do we talk about menstrual equity in places that are totally beyond public view, such as prisons and immigration detention centers,” said keynote speaker Julie Schwietert Collazo, director of Immigrant Families Together. “They cannot be here to speak in their own words. I am here to ask that we do not forget them today, on National Period Day, or any day.”

Nadya Okamoto, a 21-year-old junior at Harvard University and co-founder of nonprofit advocacy group PERIOD, helped launch the series of rallies across the country.

“Period poverty disproportionately affects people in low-income households,” Okamoto said of a report that found 46 percent of low-income women had to choose between a meal and period products. “This isn’t just about periods. This is about gender equality and fighting for global development.”

According to a 2018 poll by Always, a menstrual products company, nearly 1 in 5 girls nationwide has left school early or stayed home because of a lack of access to period supplies.

As a 16-year-old, Okamoto was outraged by the notion that comfort while menstruating was a luxury. It’s a basic human right, she argues, that motivated her to found PERIOD with a friend in Portland, Ore., in 2014. The organization has registered more than 400 campus chapters in all 50 states and in more than 30 countries.

In the past few months, PERIOD chapters passed about 12 pieces of policy at the local and state levels for schools, but they’re eyeing nationwide change. PERIOD has two primary demands: provide period products to all — especially those in public schools and prisons — and eliminate the tampon tax.

The duty, often called the “pink tax,” refers to sales taxes on menstrual products in 34 states. The states classify them as nonessential items rather than hygiene products, which are typically exempt such taxes and include items such as Rogaine and Viagra.

Washington, D.C., abolished the tampon tax in 2018, but Nina Sarhan, the Washington rally organizer, felt it important to present PERIOD’s policy demands to the most powerful lawmakers in the country.

“In D.C., we’re focusing on highlighting those most vulnerable to period poverty,” Sarhan said. “Period poverty is so pervasive and hits so many intersections, but it’s harder for our trans and immigrant families.”

The event’s corporate sponsor, Seventh Generation, a menstrual products manufacturer, launched an ongoing charitable co-venture to donate 43 cents from every pack of period products — roughly the cost of the pink tax — to PERIOD and other grassroots movements fighting menstrual inequality.

“For us, it’s really important that the industry really steps up,” said Ashley Orgain, Seventh Generation’s global director of advocacy and sustainability. “This is an opportunity to raise that issue. Having access and information is something that is just a human right.”

As the rally drew to a close, Okamoto vowed that the fight was just beginning. The organization plans to continue legislation advocacy and lobbying ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

“This is the power of young people mobilizing,” she said. “We change policy, but we can also change culture. This is a real and urgent issue that constituents will care about and rally around.”

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