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Women In New York City Just Scored A Major Victory In The Fight For Tax-Free Tampons

Boxes of tampons are displayed in a pharmacy, Monday, March 7, 2016, in New York. A group of women has filed a lawsuit accusing New York of unlawfully taxing tampons and other feminine hygiene products. The suit argues that medical items are exempt from sales tax in New York. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK LENNIHAN
Boxes of tampons are displayed in a pharmacy, Monday, March 7, 2016, in New York. A group of women has filed a lawsuit accusing New York of unlawfully taxing tampons and other feminine hygiene products. The suit argues that medical items are exempt from sales tax in New York. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK LENNIHAN

New York City will likely become the first city in the U.S. to guarantee access to free menstrual hygiene products to women and girls in public schools, homeless shelters, and jails.

The legislation, sponsored by New York City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, passed with a unanimous vote of 49–0 on Tuesday. The bill is now awaiting approval from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is expected to sign it into law next month.

The bill is a big win especially for the women and girls across the city who may find it difficult to afford menstrual hygiene products — 49 percent of public school students in New York come from low income families, according to a 2015 study by the Southern Education Foundation. In addition, out of the 300,000 students in New York City public schools, 48 percent are female. Incarceration also disproportionately affects people from low income and disadvantaged communities, and homeless women face the added stress of not always being able to afford pads or tampons.

The cost of implementing the program amounts to $4.2 million in its first year. Specifically, it would cost schools $3.7 million and shelters $540,000. After its first year, cost would drop to $1.9 million.

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This historic legislation presents a victory to women who have been fighting to rid their states and cities of the “pink tax,” the extra cost that subjects female-branded hygiene products, such as tampons, to a sales tax. The additional charges on these products can add to staggering amounts for women — the cost of managing periods alone cost an estimated $18,000 over a woman’s lifetime, and tampons alone cost a women about $1,700.

According to research conducted by Fusion, only five states in the U.S. do not place taxes on tampons. Most states place tax exemptions on items that are considered necessities, but the products that constitute a necessity vary by state — with tampons usually not falling under this category.

There has been a burgeoning worldwide movement in recent years not only to end the pink tax, but also to destigmatize periods and facilitate a conversation about women’s menstrual health. For example, a Change.org petition by Jennifer-Weiss Wolf and Cosmopolitan Magazine advocated for ending the tax on tampons across state legislatures, and social media hashtags like #PeriodsAreNotAnInsult erupted after Donald Trump said Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly “had blood coming out of her or whatever” to reclaim power over the period.

The resistance against the tampon tax specifically has manifested itself through lawsuits and bills on the legislative level to eliminate the tax. In March, groups of women in Ohio and New York filed lawsuits against the state seeking to end the sales tax on feminine hygiene products. Lawmakers in Illinois and Ohio have introduced measures in the past year that would make sanitary products exempt from state taxes. And just recently, the California state legislature approved a similar bill to ensure tax-free tampons.

The issue has also gained prominence on the international level as well. Canada ended its tax on sanitary products last July, and women in Britain and Australia have protested the tampon tax in their countries.

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New York is doing a lot to make feminine hygiene products more accessible and affordable for women. This past March, Ferreras-Copeland introduced a pilot program in New York City to provide free tampons to 25 public middle school and high schools to students in Queens and the Bronx. And in a statewide victory, the New York State unanimously passed a bill in April to get rid of the tax on tampons and other female-branded hygiene products, and Governor Cuomo is expected to sign the bill into law later this year.

Celisa Calacal is an intern with ThinkProgress.