USC Students Participate in Battle Against Period Poverty in South Carolina

In a CVS store in rural Clarendon County, a notice on the tampon aisle indicated that the product is highly sought after, with a limit of two boxes per customer.

The encounter with “period poverty,” where access to menstrual products and education is lacking, spurred four University of South Carolina students to transform their concepts into actionable solutions following their win in the 2023 Pay it Forward competition sponsored by South Carolina’s electric cooperatives.

The victorious students, studying medical and science disciplines – Aastha Arora, Jiya Desai, Anusha Ghosh, and Thrisha Mote – were challenged by the competition to address rural community issues in the state.

“We have all grown up surrounded by the stigma of menstruation,” explained Mote, a psychology student from Chattanooga. “We wanted to shed light on how this stigma can disproportionately affect those in rural areas.”

Research reveals that in the U.S., two out of five women face challenges purchasing menstrual supplies due to financial constraints. In South Carolina, one in five women aged 12 to 44 live below the poverty line, as reported by the state’s Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network. Furthermore, federal grocery benefits are not applicable for pads and tampons.

Prior to this week, South Carolina was among 21 states that taxed period products. A typical pack of 32 tampons is priced at $10.99 in South Carolina. When considering the state’s 6% sales tax and additional local sales taxes up to 3%, the cost rises by nearly $1.

In locales like Clarendon County, residents often need to travel longer distances to procure essential items.

The group of four Honors College students, who all belong to the medical-oriented fraternity Phi Delta Epsilon, are members of USC’s Rural Interest Group focusing on contributing to rural community development. Their investigation highlighted the significant impact of the issue on school-aged girls.

Through conversations with other female students, they learned how some girls sought toilet paper from the school nurse during their period due to a lack of access to proper sanitary products.

“This exposed us to the cycle of poverty prevalent in such areas, where learned behaviors influence the next generation,” revealed Desai from Fort Mill, set to begin medical school soon.

Building on their in-depth research and proposing a non-profit to provide menstrual products to school districts, each of the women received a $5,000 cash prize from the electric cooperatives the previous year.

However, the group was driven to expand their impact beyond the initial endeavor.

“We felt it lacked closure to stop there,” expressed Arora, a junior studying biology from Charlotte. “We invested so much effort and believed it was an achievable goal.”

Forming a student club at USC named No Period Left Behind, they garnered about 175 student participants.

“Our goal wasn’t just to study the issue but to actively address it,” added Ghosh from Greenville, also embarking on medical school soon.

The women used a portion of their prize money to purchase sanitary products, raised $400 through a bake sale on campus, and received $150 and 3,000 pads from supportive sororities.

Subsequently, they organized events to pack and distribute the supplies to women’s shelters, middle and high schools, a food pantry for USC students, and in women’s restrooms across the college campus.

At Saluda Middle School, they conducted a seminar to educate girls about menstruation.

No Period Left Behind aligns with various organizations across the state dedicated to tackling period poverty, such as Revolution Red in Columbia, Period Pixies in the Lowcountry, and The Period Project headquartered in Greenville.

This collaboration led No Period Left Behind to engage in legislative initiatives on the issue.

Last year, efforts led by predominantly female legislators aimed to eliminate sales taxes on menstrual products, which generate approximately $7 million in state and local taxes yearly, according to state fiscal analysts.

The latest bipartisan endeavor received unanimous approval in the House, followed by unanimous Senate approval two weeks ago to abolish the tampon tax. Political strategy from Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, D-Walterboro, expedited the Senate vote by halting tax breaks on golf club memberships.

Gov. Henry McMaster signed the bill into law on Monday. However, the implementation timeline for halting the taxation of menstrual products in South Carolina remained uncertain as of Tuesday.

A Department of Revenue spokesperson mentioned that the agency is formulating a plan and will notify retailers promptly regarding required adjustments.

Several groups, including No Period Left Behind, advocated for the bill through written correspondence and testimonies at legislative sessions. Their aspirations for the coming year involve advocating for school funding to provide free menstrual products to students.

“While we continue to donate to schools and women’s shelters, our ultimate goal is to address the core issue,” Desai emphasized. “We strive to maximize our impact within our capacity.”

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