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Washtenaw County teen group tackles period poverty in Michigan

The local chapter is drumming up support for a petition to Michigan legislators through online advocacy.
The local chapter is drumming up support for a petition to Michigan legislators through online advocacy. (Pexels)

WASHTENAW COUNTY, Mich. – Teens at Washtenaw County International High School are working together to tackle period poverty in the state of Michigan.

PERIOD@WIHI, a club at the high school, has been been working with other Washtenaw County chapters of youth-led advocacy organization PERIOD to speak to policymakers and grow awareness of menstrual equity.

Founded by seniors Adi Orlyanchik and Karley Young, the chapter has traditionally been involved with education and community awareness but switched gears in 2019 when members attended a policy issues boot camp offered by PERIOD.

Now PERIOD@WIHI is working with other chapters and organizations at the University of Michigan, Wayne State University and Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor in its advocacy efforts.

Currently, the chapter is focused on Michigan House Bills 4165 and 4166, which would amend the General Sales Tax Act and the Use Tax Act to exempt feminine hygiene products from sales and use taxes, also known as “the tampon tax.”

The bills were introduced to the Michigan House of Representatives in February 2019.

To raise awareness of the bills, the chapter is pushing for signatures on a petition asking the Michigan House of Representatives and other Michigan legislators to support the bills.

“We actually got a lot of support within the first two days. I think we got 1,000 [signatures] within two days but then afterwards it slowed a bit down, " Young said.

She said the chapter met with Michigan House Representative Tenisha Yancey, a sponsor of Bill 4165, and other co-sponsoring state representatives after launching the petition.

The group talked with the representatives about raising awareness among community members around Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County.

Find the petition here.

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In addition to gathering support through the petition, PERIOD@WIHI plans to work with Period Equity, a New York-based menstrual equity group, to continue pushing policies to remove the tampon tax in Michigan.

According to Orlyanchik, the financial impacts of COVID-19 has pushed affordable menstrual products even farther out of the reach of those already struggling or unemployed.

“So we are seeing right now, more than ever, that more and more people are becoming financially unstable,” said Orlyanchik. “More and more people are becoming unable to purchase period products for themselves.”

She emphasized the medical consequences of unsafe or unsanitary period hygiene that may occur when individuals are unable to afford the products they need.

Orlyanchik added that it was important to amplify the petition in order to support others in the community.

Young said that PERIOD@WIHI has taken its advocacy online through virtual meetings, hosting speaker panels, donating menstrual products and sending out newsletters to partnering organizations.

Previously, the teen group partnered with the Robert J. Delonis Center and SafeHouse Center in Ann Arbor, Saline Area Social Service in Saline and the Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti.

Find the chapter website here.

About the Author:

Sarah has worked for WDIV since June 2018. She covers community events, good eats and small businesses in Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in Applied Linguistics from Grand Valley State University.