CEDAR RAPIDS — Washington High School senior Emma Barton-Norris doesn’t want people to be embarrassed to talk about menstruation.
She recently earned a Gold Award from the Girl Scouts, the highest achievement the organization recognizes. Her project focused on increasing access to feminine hygiene products, a necessity that can be an expensive one.
That’s why she wants to see the end of tampon tax. In Iowa and many other states, food purchased at grocery stores is exempt from sales tax, and some activists believe tampons and pads should also be exempt as necessities.
Barton-Norris said she has classmates and friends who have had trouble affording tampons and pads.
“It’s obviously not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” she said. “And 50 percent of the population is female.”
To raise awareness about the issue, she met with state Sen. Rob Hogg to discuss the issue and organized a letter-writing campaign with classmates.
“Menstruation is something we don’t really talk about. It’s kind of taboo. I wanted to be able to kind of open it up,” she said.
She also created a website, http://tampontax.my-free.website, and held an event at NewBo City Market where she talked with individuals about the issue.
Finally, she held a donation drive to collect pads and tampons for the Catherine McAuley Center, which has a transitional housing shelter for women. She collected items at school and in her neighborhood, and in August donated around $400 worth of supplies to the nonprofit.
When women arrive at the transitional housing shelter, they receive a laundry basket with bedding and supplies like soap, toothpaste and feminine hygiene products. The Catherine McAuley Center also has a hygiene closet that is open to all clients, students and residents who use the center.
“Our need for donations is ongoing,” said Selah Ulmer, volunteer and outreach coordinator. “Our goal is to reduce barriers to stability.”
Something like not having to worry about being able to afford supplies like tampons is a small but important part of that, she said.
“I wanted to do something related to women’s health, because I feel Girl Scouts is specifically about women’s empowerment,” Barton-Norris said.
Barton-Norris is a fourth generation Girl Scout — her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother were all involved with the organization.
“It was kind of in my blood,” she said.
She grew up attending Girl Scouts but her troop disbanded in middle school. Last year, she decided to pick up scouting again and to pursue the Gold Award.
“I wanted to find what else I could with myself,” she said. “I felt like, if I could do something in the community that I believed in, I could look back on the end of high school and childhood with this really good thing.”
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