A local girl scout troop is hosting a menstrual supply drive this week as part of an advocacy project aimed at barriers that prevent women from accessing such health care products.
Essex Girl Scout Troop 30755, comprised of six local juniors and sophomore girls, is hosting the drive on Thursday, May 16, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at local food shelf Aunt Dot’s Place.
It’s part of a long-term badge project that’s being referred to as “Girltopia,” which asks scouts to envision what an ideal world for girls looks like and had them identify a project that would make a real-world impact on their community, said trooper leader Laura Juliano Chadwick.
“The genesis of thinking about all of these issues … started from a really personal point of what it’s like to be a teenage girl,” Chadwick said.
Chadwick said her scouts began researching issues surrounding menstruation, particularly how the health care supplies can be cost-prohibitive for incarcerated women or those experiencing homelessness; scouts came across stories in which some women had to decide between menstruation products and other life necessities, the troop leader said.
The scouts then dove head first into the world of advocacy, coming across a growing movement to exempt menstrual items from state sales taxes, commonly known as the tampon tax.
To date, 10 U.S. states have passed laws exempting feminine products from such taxes, but Vermont has yet to do so; currently, hygiene products sold here are subject to a 6 percent state sales tax plus an additional one percent in any community that has a local option tax.
Other medical supplies, however, like bandages, disposable heating pads, syringes and needles are exempt, according to the Vermont Commission on Women.
Proponents of eliminating the tampon tax argue that it contributes to economic inequality since women, who, on average, already experience lower wages compared to men, have no choice but to use these products, and therefore the tax code should be treat these items the same as other necessities.
The Vermont Commission on Women estimates that an average woman will spend upwards of $1,770 on tampons in her lifetime – with an additional $440 if she uses panty liners for backup.
The taxes on these two products amount to an average payment of $155, the commission says, while women with heavier flows or longer periods likely to pay significantly more.
“This is a basic health care need, but the state considers these luxury items … it seemed really unfair,” Chadwick said.
So the scouts set their sights on Montpelier, with Chadwick taking on the role of facilitator, first setting up a meeting with Essex Rep. Marybeth Redmond (D), who also serves on the Vermont Commission for Women.
“I applaud their advocacy not only for gathering sanitary supplies for our local food shelf, but also using their intelligent voices to shift public policy in support of vulnerable women,” Redmond wrote in an email.
The scouts then met with Rep. George Till, a physician at the University of Vermont Medical Center, who walked them through the legislative process and discussed a bill he proposed this session that would have eliminated the tampon tax.
The bill, H. 29, has yet to make it out of the Ways and Means Committee and is unlikely to pass this session, but Chadwick said the troop remains committed to the cause, planning to advocate for its passage over the next year.
In the meantime, the troop hopes this week’s drive can start the conversation, Chadwick said.
Andrea Francalangia, president and co-founder of Aunt Dot’s Place, said feminine products “go quickly” when the food shelf has them in stock because of how expensive they are.
“If you have a dollar you can buy macaroni and cheese, but you can’t necessarily buy tampons,” Francalangia said. She said it’s inspiring to see the scouts work to make their community a better place.
“It’s more of what the world needs,” Francalangia said.
Chadwick, the troop leader, added her own personal praise of her scouts. “They’re busy kids with a lot of stuff going on,” she said. “To realize that this was something they could personally understand the issue, and that it’s a small enough state that you can actually reach out to all the people involved, it’s just impressive to see.”