From left to right: Asia Brown, 19; Laila Brown, 15; Maisie Brown, 19

In Mississippi, menstrual hygiene products such as pads and tampons are taxed, an economic barrier advocates say disproportionately affect the state’s low-income women and women of color.

The 7% sales tax rate on these products, known as the “pink tax,” poses a financial burden for people who need these supplies and makes it even more difficult to access them for the 20% of Mississippians who live in poverty, according to Census data.

This issue of access and equity led sisters Asia and Laila Brown, 19 and 15, respectively, to launch 601 for Period Equity earlier this year. The organization provides free menstrual hygiene products for people in their Vicksburg community. The sisters recently teamed up with 19-year-old Maisie Brown (no relation) to launch a branch in the Jackson metro area.

601 for Period Equity currently serves people in Jackson and Vicksburg. Those interested in receiving products can sign up here. The team delivers products purchased off a Target registry and also accepts donations to purchase these items — tampons, pads, Midol, wash and wipes  — off the registry. 

Mississippi Today recently spoke with Laila and Maisie Brown to learn more about the organization’s mission.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Mississippi Today: What led you to create 601 for Period Equity?

Laila Brown: Both Asia and I joined a nonprofit called The Pad Project. They were looking for ambassadors and we both applied and were accepted. We’ve been doing that since about that last summer. …We noticed within the menstrual equity movement, being this organization, it was heavily white. And just in general the menstrual equity movement is heavily white. So we both decided that it was important that we uplift Black menstruators… In the Black community we also have lots of menstrual inequity and stigma. Period poverty hits Black women very hard because of socioeconomic conditions and everything like that. So we decided it would be great if we could create our own organization in Mississippi to cater to Black menstruators here. 

We are a menstrual equity organization that centers Black menstruators, but caters to all, that provides period care packages to menstruators in need in Mississippi.

Maisie Brown: I think for me when I reached out to Asia and Laila about trying to get something established here in Jackson, I had been a part of a few drives for feminine products and had helped package and distribute a few times but the issue with those… Those were just drives. They were intermittent, it wasn’t anything super established or super permanent. I really didn’t know of an organization around here that well known, widely known, that was consistently delivering these products. 

I was just like well, this is something I was pretty interested in but I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to start it. They already have a pretty good following and know what the mission is, that’s what I want to do, so I wanted to make that more of a permanent happening in Jackson where we do have such a large population of people who are in poverty.

MT: Your goal specifically is to help Black menstruators, rather than more broadly people who live in poverty?

Laila Brown: Yes. Like we said, the menstrual equity movement is heavily white. It does try to include people of color but there is still that need for period stigma within the Black community to be addressed. Because we don’t talk about that in the Black community, we just don’t. 

Maisie Brown: But it’s not like ‘You can’t get this bag of pads because you’re white!’ We’re just saying there is a heavy focus on that but of course, the products are for anybody who needs them. 

MT: What is your goal for the organization in terms of how it might grow?

Laila Brown: Asia is sophomore at Spelman College in Atlanta and she had lots of friends who were interested in making a branch in Atlanta. So we are definitely interested in branching out, we don’t just have to serve Mississippi even though that’s our main target area right now. So we definitely will be expanding, hopefully, and branching out.

Maisie Brown: The goal in my head is to eventually have a branch leader or representative in every part of the state. I think that my next objective just personally will be to try to find people to reach out to, because my family is from the Delta so I’m very, very familiar with the situation and how period poverty is really a thing there. I would love to branch out, especially into those heavily Black areas of Mississippi. 

Eventually we talked about wanting to expand not just with the period packages and products but also branching into education surrounding periods. You know, different tips on how to take care of yourself. These are things that they did not teach in school. Even the word vagina, you just don’t say it. That page in the science book that has the vagina or the baby was like ‘We’re just going to keep going like that’s not there.’ 

When I was in middle and high school if somebody needed a pad or tampon it was this big secret mission of trying to get it out of your bookbag and trying to slip it into their purse. It was this big thing for something that we all do. So we also want to expand into education to say it’s a period, it happens to most people with vaginas, this is just what it is. It’s not taboo anymore.

Laila Brown: I do agree with Maisie… In the Black community in general people don’t talk about these issues. With periods and menstruation it’s kind of seen as dirty and it being unclean and we need to keep it under wraps.

With respectability politics… our people are already being stereotyped as unclean and dirty. There’s even this heavier stigma around periods because they are seen as unclean and dirty and you need to hide your pad and tampon — that’s not how we want to be seen.

I feel like we don’t talk about that. We just keep it kind of general. And by general I mean white. We don’t focus on how being Black and being a menstruator affects people. Black menstruators, specifically a lot of Black women have fibroids or endometriosis or (polycystic ovary syndrome) and so a lot of the times that can cause a heavier flow. A lot of people don’t know that Black women can have a heavier flow because of those different things that affect us. 

We live in Mississippi as well… (where) a lot of people are below the poverty line. A lot of menstruators are below line so it’s just important that people have access to these things. Mississippi has a tampon tax so what that means is they have a luxury sales tax on menstrual care products. That is absolutely unacceptable. That makes it even harder for Black women and Black menstruators to access those items that we need. It’s not a luxury. They’re a necessity.

MT: The Legislature is actually having a discussion right now to get rid of that tax. 

Maisie Brown: For a lot of people, think if you have multiple girls in the house, you can spend a lot of money on those products. And sometimes buying the cheaper products is kind of a trade off because they don’t make those as well a lot of time. Even the fact that it’s still considered a luxury in any way shape or form, even though it’s obviously something that we literally can’t go without, says a lot about how America and capitalism thinks about women in general. 

I follow a lot of OB/GYNs on Tik Tok, and even a lot of the products like Summer’s Eve and other products, they talk about how they capitalize on making women feel dirty for menstruating and selling super over priced products to make everything down there smell like flowers and roses when it’s like, that’s not the reality. I think it’s different issues like that that are important to address and I think in Mississippi especially I’ve just witnessed too much of people having to sacrifice or ration out their period products last for this long. Or using substitutes because they don’t know when they’ll be able to have access to those (period products) again. So just kind of seeing those experiences is kind of like, this is not something people should be wanting for. This is something people should have access to. 

Kayleigh Skinner

Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Skinner most recently served as deputy managing editor before assuming the role of managing editor. Kayleigh has a bachelor’s in journalism from the School of Journalism and New Media from the University of Mississippi. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.