The Battle for Women’s Health Rights Isn’t Over

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Activists meet at the Reproductive Freedom Forum in the Glendale Library in Salt Lake City, Utah on Monday, Feb. 6, 2017. (Rishi Deka, Daily Utah Chronicle)
Rishi Deka, Daily Utah Chronicle

For a long time women’s health, and health in general, hasn’t been given the educated attention it deserves. Lately, there’s been a newfound understanding and recognition of things we now consider public health priorities in everyday people, like poor stress management, mental health disorders and the widely accepted sleep epidemic. Only recently have we seen women’s health specifically become an important issue in and of itself, despite the evident physical and mental disparities between sexes.

This long-overdue phenomenon has been gaining traction over the last few decades, encouraging female empowerment, independence and personal responsibility for women’s bodies. While we as a society still have a ways to go, what we’ve witnessed and are continuing to witness has been a fantastic shift in expectations. We as women are now more than ever able to take control of our lives and what happens to us and our bodies. We’re taking action and we’re taking responsibility.

While the glass ceiling continues to shatter and women everywhere make strides in educational pursuits and the workforce, we have also been tackling more personal issues with everything from cervical cancer to maternal health to growing old. One of the most noteworthy advancements and relevant legislation regarding women’s health includes the development and legalization of female contraception, which was kick-started in the United States during the 1950s and ‘60s, as reported by Kirsten M.J. Thompson of ourbodiesourselves.org. It was a slow process, but as of 2010, “some 100 million women around the world use the pill,” according to an article by Time magazine. Thanks to organizations like Planned Parenthood, women in the U.S. from all walks of life can decide for themselves when and whether or not to have a baby. It isn’t up to Mother Nature anymore. It isn’t up to men. It’s up to us.

It used to be that the fate of women was at the mercy of chance, or in the hands of men and their interests, aspirations and rights. Without any rights of their own, women had to submit themselves. They had to speak when spoken to and make coffee for their husbands when they’d rather read a book. They had to have sex when they didn’t want to and with men they didn’t want to have sex with. If those women became pregnant, well too bad. They were meant to serve men and the household, have and raise children and whether they really wanted to or not wasn’t a part of the conversation. But times have changed.

We, as women, do have rights. We do have independence. No longer do we have to compromise our futures because of the hindering expectation to marry and get pregnant before we’re ready. No longer do we have to forfeit our dreams in order to survive. We can go to school. We can work. We can live alone. We can have sex on our terms. We can have babies when we want to have babies, and guess what, we don’t even have to have babies.

Even with how fortunate we are to be living in a world where we have options and control like never before, it’s important to remember that things are far from perfect. Women and men haven’t been assembling and marching all around the world for nothing. They’re marching for women’s rights — for human rights. They’re marching for a continuation of progress. They’re marching to prevent regression. They’re marching to keep from settling because they recognize that there is still progress to be made. There are still great inconsistencies in the treatment and rights of women compared to men, even in the U.S. and other developed countries where we seem to “have it all.” There are still injustices we need to overcome.

Let’s take a look at some examples. How many of you have heard of the tampon tax? You know, that extra bit of money we have to pay for those already expensive feminine hygiene products? It’s hard knowing females everywhere are contributing to a component of the federal tax revenue that men aren’t, and for something we have no control over, like a period. According to Sarah Larimer of The Washington Post, California alone accumulated “over $20 million annually in taxes,” from the tampon tax over a 40-year span. Christina Garcia, a women’s activist working to combat gender injustice, has pointed out that for those women who are on a tight budget and already on the wrong side of a gender wage gap, the extra payments add up.

Additionally, according to Patricia Garcia of Vogue, “products that are considered necessities, like food and medical supplies, are usually exempt from state sales taxes.” But tampons and other feminine hygiene products don’t qualify. However, and interestingly enough, some less critical items fit the bill, “including sunscreen, ChapStick, [and] anti-dandruff shampoo.” Even more interesting is the fact that there are men’s products much less crucial than tampons that don’t get taxed due to their “necessity” status. Products like Rogaine, a hair loss treatment foam for men, is an example. Even Viagra is tax exempt in some states. Because we all know how important it is to dodge hair loss insecurity and maintain an erection well into your 70s.

As of now there are four states that won’t tax your period — Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Minnesota. Several don’t even have a sales tax — Oregon, Montana, New Hampshire and Alaska. As for the rest of us, well, you get the picture. For us Utahns, supportive legislation may be even farther off than for other states. As Garcia reports, in Utah, legislation condemning the taxation of feminine hygiene products was struck “down by an all-male committee.” This is just further evidence that the tampon tax is a discriminatory tax and it should be done away with.

Obviously, the nestling of the indecent and discriminatory nature of, Donald Trump, into office likely isn’t going to help our feminine social progression (if you’re suffering from TAD — Trump Anxiety Disorder — say aye). But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t still things we can do on more localized levels to combat things like unjust taxation, wage gaps, unsupportive abortion laws, unfair treatment in the workplace, etc. — all of which are issues that have surely gotten better over time, but are not causes to be abandoned. We need to continue to strive for equal and fair treatment of women — as human beings — and end social injustice, even when those at the top don’t always seem to be on our side. We’re doing great, but let’s keep fighting.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

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