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With 50,000 menstruation pads, North Dakota Women's Network ready to fight 'period poverty'

The North Dakota Women's Network routinely gives out free menstrual supplies through its Period Project. Also, in the next legislative session, the Women's Network plans to push for a bill that would end North Dakota's tax on menstrual products.

Woman gives two thumbs up in front of dozens of heavily wrapped packages on pallets, marked Always.
Sophie Burroughs, research assistant at the North Dakota Women's Network, with 50,000 menstrual pads.
Kristie Wolff / Special to The Forum
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FARGO — The North Dakota Women's Network has 50,000 menstruation pads ready to be given out, for free, to people across the state.

Distributing the pads is part of the Women’s Network's effort to combat a lack of access to menstrual products and education around menstruation. The issue, known as "period poverty," is estimated to affect millions worldwide.

The Women's Network, which does a variety of work to advocate for women in North Dakota, routinely gives out free menstrual supplies through its Period Project . Also, in the next legislative session, the Women's Network plans to push for a bill that would end North Dakota's tax on menstrual products .

The Youth Action Council, part of the Women's Network, started the Period Project in 2021. Since then the initiative has given out 1,100 period packs to schools, homeless shelters and food pantries. The packs include pads, tampons and hand sanitizer, all wrapped up in pencil pouches.

“(Period Project) is about ending this innate sense of shame that comes with starting menstruation, it’s about ending misinformation, it’s about providing access to education and access to supplies,” said Olivia Data, coordinator of the Youth Action Council.

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It was this work that helped make the Women's Network one of 50 Always "Period Heroes" in 50 states.

Their prize? 50,000 pads for the communities they serve.

Six people gather around a table and assemble period packs. The table is full of pads, tampons, and hand sanitizer.
In an effort organized by the North Dakota Women's Network, packs are filled with menstruation products in Jamestown. The packs are given out for free to anyone who needs them.
Kristie Wolff / Special to The Forum

Kristie Wolff, executive director of the North Dakota Women’s Network, screamed in excitement when she first got the news about the award.

“I can tell you, I’ve never been so excited about menstrual products in my entire life,” Wolff said.

“We are thrilled by the recognition and donation from Always,” Data said. “The ability to distribute these menstrual products across the state will allow us to make an important positive impact to address the needs of so many individuals.”

The pads are heading out on a statewide road trip, undertaken by Wolff, which she joyfully referred to as the Period Project Road Trip.

Pencil case filled with pads, liners, tampons, and hand sanitizer. Three mini fliers on the table entitled: how to insert a tampon, Youth Action Council, and what is the tampon tax.
Contents of a typical period pack.
Kristie Wolff / Special to The Forum

She plans to hit up large towns, rural communities, and reservations in September and October. Wolff is working with statewide partners to determine which organizations to visit.

Wolff is looking forward to her trip in addition to their next big undertaking: The Women’s Network is gearing up to fight North Dakota’s tax on menstrual products in the 2023 legislative session. They are collaborating with North Dakota Rep. Gretchen Dobervich , D-Fargo.

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“I am going to be introducing a bill to remove the tax on feminine hygiene products,” Dobervich said.

Dobervich is up for reelection this year. If she is not elected then she will ask another legislator to introduce this bill.

Five people stand along a table filling period packs.
Volunteers assemble period packs in Dickinson, North Dakota.
Kristie Wolff / Special to The Forum

“They are a necessary item. Women can’t not have them. So the fact that they are taxed, when other necessary items aren’t, isn’t equitable,” Dobervich said. “It’s a tax that is specific to one gender, and it is also a tax on a necessary item. We don’t tax a lot of other necessary items.”

Twenty-one states, including Minnesota, exempt period products from taxation, and another five states don't have a state sales tax, according to the Alliance for Period Supplies.

North Dakota has a two-part sales tax on many retail sales, including menstruation products: 1) a state sales tax of 5% for most retail sales and 2) local taxes that vary by city or county, according to the State Tax Commissioner's Office.

Dobervich said her priority when developing the bill is to make it a win-win for women and their families, while not having it be detrimental to the revenue that comes into the state from taxes.

“Anytime you cut a tax, then that’s a little less revenue that’s coming in to pay for obligations,” said Dobervich, referring to costs associated with things like public schools, roads and parks.

Similar efforts have failed in the past. In 2017, a menstrual product exemption bill was rejected by the North Dakota Senate , with a vote of 43-3.

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At the time, the loss of tax revenue was a strong consideration for the 'no' voters. The passage of the pad and tampon exemption would have resulted in $1.1 million of lost sales tax revenue, Kathy Strombeck of the State Tax Commissioner's Office said in 2019.

It's worth noting that North Dakota has a sales tax exemption on adult diapers. The adult diapers exemption loses tax revenue somewhere between $3 million and $6 million per year, Strombeck said in 2019.

While eliminating the tax won’t end period poverty in North Dakota, nor drastically help people in the short-term who struggle to afford menstruation products, it will make it cheaper in the long run, according to Dobervich.

“I’m just excited about the opportunity to try to give a tax relief to women and families that may only seem like a small amount each month, but when you think about the fact that over the course of four decades you’re paying this tax, it really adds up,” Dobervich said.

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