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Combatting a Senseless Tax

“I can't wait until people say that my job is superfluous because that means I can move onto other issues that we should be spending more time on.” 
 
Madeleine Morales ’18 is a dual degree student and received a bachelor’s in political science from Barnard College this year and will receive a master’s in public health with a concentration in public health policy from the Columbia School of Public Health in 2023. An assignment on gender and public policy changed her life. 
 
“We could write about any issue, and I wanted to focus on a contemporary, gendered public health issue,” said Morales. “I decided to dig into why certain states have a tampon tax and others don't. It was unlike any other policy analysis I've ever done.” 
 
When you speak with Madeleine, her passion is apparent.  
 
“It lights a fire under me every day. This is a human rights issue. Menstruation is not a partisan issue – people on both sides of the aisle can menstruate. We don't talk about it because of the stigma, and this stigma reinforces a physical model of domination. Western Europe is already ahead of us and it's a shame that the United States is behind on providing tampons and pads as medical necessities. It's just a function of life and a biological mechanism. It's quite literally the state of your body and it should not be taxed or taboo.” 
 
If you are in disbelief, you are not alone. And there’s more.  
 
Ohio just got rid of its tampon tax a couple of years ago but in Kentucky and Indiana menstruators are still paying a fee to participate in society.  
 
“It’s gender-based discrimination. There is a wage gap and this tax is a punitive measure, a regressive tax. This tax is basically saying, ‘Your body is an inconvenience and you have to pay for it.’” 
 
But Morales has not just researched and written about this tax. To date, she has taken legal action against four states over their tampon taxes, going through the petition, appeal, and court re-appeal process. Eventually, she had to drop the cases to avoid setting a negative precedent; although, she helped co-lead National Period Action Day and finally got the Michigan legislature to eradicate its tampon task. Madeleine strongly believes that the dual efforts of policy and grassroots were effective in getting an eradication bill passed.  
 
According to Madeleine, states that tax menstruators collect a combined $150 million, a decrease from $250 million four years ago before some states – like Michigan – passed bills eradicating the tax.  
 
She also works with Period Equality, which helps people take legal action on menstrual issues, and participates in a larger national coalition of period advocacy groups from across the country that are working with various menstrual rights. 
 
“Every time I go through the airport at CVG I file a petition so legislators notice that people care and are paying attention. The intention of filing is to put pressure on the legislation to eradicate the tax themselves, knowing they will always choose to take action on their own before letting you win a suit.”  
 
Morales encourages menstruators and allies to the menstruating community to file their own refunds. She recently launched an Instagram page that teaches people how to file their own refund, including language, examples, and the steps necessary to do it in less than an hour. 

"My internal fire is always on. I often see things as opportunities not barriers. Because this has never been done before by youth activists I went after it. I can honestly say that Country Day helped give me the confidence and resilience to do what I’m doing today.”  
 
As a student at Country Day, Madeleine knew she wanted to be a lawyer.  

“I was always drawn to human rights issues and justice. Mr. Fossett’s American government class was awesome. And the small class sizes provided the perfect environment to have your ideas challenged. I have to do this every day and getting that practice was really important.”   
 
Country Day prepared her for life in other ways as well. 
 
“The opportunity to try on many hats – from theater to sports – made me fearless in going after what I wanted to and trying new things. Also, the connections we were able to have with our teachers has been so important. After high school, you want to network with professionals and college professors and I was always very comfortable doing so. None of that struck me as weird, but some of my peers in college were not used to that culture because they went to larger schools.” 
 
As a member of Country Day’s Alumni Council, Madeleine said she finds the changes that have happened since her graduation inspiring.  This year, Madeline also presented in Senior Seminar, which is when recent alumni return to campus to provide advice and perspectives to seniors. Click here to watch the video.
 
“I'm excited for the kids who get to attend Country Day now and in the future. I love how welcoming the school is and I love the direction the school is heading in.”   

Morales doesn’t plan to stop pursuing justice any time soon. 
 
Through the Athena Center for Leadership Studies, Madeleine is an Athena scholar and receives funding to pursue additional activism. As a menstrual justice activist, she is featured in a documentary that will debut in 2023 and tells the story of her menstrual justice journey.  

“One person can do a lot. I’m 22 and have incited change in two states. I was on the phone with West Virginia’s attorney general’s office earlier this year because I was going to face him in court. Everyone can do one small thing by filing a petition to make a difference. This work matters.”