USC Students Join in Fight Against ‘Period Poverty’ in South Carolina

Student group takes part in Statehouse push to end sales tax on menstrual products.

University of South Carolina students, left to right, Thrisha Mote, Jiya Desai, Aastha Arora and Anusha Ghosh seek to to increase access to menstrual products in South Carolina for women and girls who can’t afford them. (No Periods Left Behind)

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COLUMBIA — In the tampon aisle of a CVS in rural Clarendon County, a sign read “This item is in high demand” and limited purchases to two boxes per customer.

It was this encounter with “period poverty,” defined as a lack of access to menstrual products and education, that led four University of South Carolina students to turn their ideas from a student contest into reality.

Four students pursuing medical and science degrees — Aastha Arora, Jiya Desai, Anusha Ghosh, and Thrisha Mote — were winners of the 2023 sponsored by South Carolina’s electric cooperatives, which asks teams of college students to come up with solutions to issues plaguing rural communities in the state.

“All of us have kind of grown up with this stigma around menstruation,” said Mote, a rising senior from Chattanooga, Tennessee, studying psychology, recently told the SC Daily Gazette. “But we also wanted to explore how that stigma can disproportionately affect rural residents.”

In the U.S., two of every five women struggle to purchase menstrual supplies due to lack of income. In the Palmetto State, one in five females ages 12 to 44 fall beneath the poverty line, according to South Carolina’s . And federal grocery benefits, what used to be known as food stamps, can’t be used to purchase pads and tampons.

Also, until Monday, South Carolina was one of 21 states taxing period products. The average box of 32 tampons in South Carolina sells for $10.99. Add the state’s 6% sales tax and up to 3% in local sales taxes, and the price goes up by nearly $1.

In rural areas, such as Clarendon County, residents often must travel longer distances to the nearest store to buy what they need.

The four Honors College students, who met in the medical-related fraternity Phi Delta Epsilon, are also members of USC’s Rural Interest Group, consisting of students interested in working in rural communities. Their research found the issue particularly impacted school-age girls.

Speaking to other female students about their experiences, they heard from one woman about how students would ask the school nurse for toilet paper to use while on their period because they didn’t have access to pads.

“This kind of opened our eyes to kind of the cycle of poverty that happens in areas like these where they learn these from their parents,” said Desai, of Fort Mill, who starts medical school in the fall.

Their research into the issue and a proposal to form a non-profit to donate menstrual products to school districts in the state earned each of the women a $5,000 cash prize last year from the electric cooperatives.

It could have ended there, but the group decided to push their idea further.

“We kind of felt unfulfilled to just stop there,” said Arora, a rising junior from Charlotte studying biology. “We put in so much work and we felt like it wasn’t something that was unattainable.”

They formed a student group at USC called No Period Left Behind. About 175 students signed up to participate.

“We didn’t just want to research this issue. We wanted to actively try to combat it,” added Ghosh of Greenville, who also starts medical school in the fall.

The four women took part of their prize money from the contest and started buying pads and tampons. A bake sale on USC’s campus earned them an additional $400. And a pair of charitable sororities donated $150 and 3,000 pads.

The group then hosted events to pack the supplies given out at women’s shelters and middle and high schools, as well as a food pantry for USC students and in women’s restrooms in the library, student center and other high-traffic buildings on the college campus.

At Saluda Middle School, they held a seminar to teach the girls about periods.

No Period Left Behind joins the ranks of several such organizations around the state seeking to combat period poverty: Revolution Red in Columbia, Period Pixies in the Lowcountry and The Period Project headquartered in Greenville.

Making connections with these groups also led No Period Left Behind to join legislative efforts on the issue.

Legislators, mostly female, have tried for five years to paid on menstrual products. These items generate an estimate $7 million in state and local sales taxes annually, according to state fiscal experts.

The got unanimous approval in the House last year. But it wasn’t until two weeks ago that senators gave final approval, also unanimously, to eliminate the so-called tampon tax. It took a from Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, D-Walterboro, who held up tax breaks on golf club memberships, to get that vote on the Senate floor.

Gov. Henry McMaster signed the legislation into law Monday. While the law’s supposed to take effect with his signature, it remained unclear Tuesday when stores will actually stop taxing menstrual products bought in South Carolina.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Revenue said the agency is working on a plan and will notify retailers of the necessary adjustments “as soon as possible.”

No Period Left Behind was among several groups that wrote letters and spoke at legislative hearings in favor of the proposal. Next year, they hope to push lawmakers to put funding in the budget for schools to purchase menstrual products and have them available free to students.

“We can continue to donate to different schools and women’s shelters,” Desai said. “We’re trying to do just the best with what we can, but that would really be hitting like the root issue.”

is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. SC Daily Gazette maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Seanna Adcox for questions: info@scdailygazette.com. Follow SC Daily Gazette on and .

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