Irise International works to support the education and empowerment of women and girls in East Africa through addressing the neglected issue of menstrual hygiene management. In this series of blogs, we look at how menstrual hygiene can affect all girls in a range of cultures and environments. In the first of these blogs, Laura Coryton, a guest blogger, explains the detrimental effect tampon tax can have on gender identity and involvement in society in the UK. All over the world women and girls are held back from their full potential, and we want this to change. To find out more about the work Irise do please visit www.irise.org.uk.
Sanitary tax is a damaging worldwide phenomenon that needs to end. Period. Hundreds of governments across the globe implement a tax on menstruation: a natural bodily function that happens whether we want it to or not. A small tax on tampons, sanitary pads and mooncups may seem justifiable in theory (everything has to be taxed just a little, right?) but in practice and in context it exacerbates skewed priorities that systematically alienate women and trans men from society and places further shame on the female body. Millions are losing out to this tax and it’s not just wallets that are hurting as a result.
Women and trans men are significantly underrepresented in the vast majority of governments across the world. Unfortunately, this means that issues associated with them don’t necessarily gain the traction they deserve. Tampon tax is just one example of the dangers of this.
In the UK, for example, tampon tax was implemented in 1973, at a time when female MPs were so few and far between that they held very little power in Parliament. Consequently, policy making failed to properly consider a woman’s worth in the UK. Parliament was able to sideline women and push through a tax on sanitary products simply because the exiting political elite didn’t extend power to the female hand.
The dangers of implementing tampon tax affect the relationship that women and trans men form with their place in the rest of society. Implementing a tax that explicitly penalises an already marginalised demographic is bad for the world because it lessens incentives for that subsection to engage in a society where they are heavily underrepresented politically. More to the point, why should anyone engage in a society that penalises them for having ovaries at birth and actively discourage them financially from engaging in society in any kind of a socially acceptable way when they are menstruating? If I should consider my tampon a luxury, I must also consider my use of that tampon a luxury, along with my ability to work, socialise and simply exist whilst menstruating. Tampon tax doesn’t just signify female alienation. It represents active exclusion and unavoidable chastisement enforced upon women from birth. Where sanitary tax continues to be implemented, this notion only grows stronger.
The tampon tax also fails society on a medical level. Clean and functional sanitary products are crucial to ensuring that women don’t jeopardise their health whilst dealing with menstruation. I once received an email, asking me why women can’t just ‘stuff used newspaper up there and shut up’. I replied by reminding the sender that vaginas and letter boxes are two separate entities. We care for our bodies and we should care for our vaginas too. Leaving anything unclean in or on your body for too long is clearly a bad idea. Implementing a monetary barrier to access of a vital health product we need to use, whether we like it or not, hurts the health of society. It’s that simple.
Ultimately, the tampon tax solidifies the period taboo within the psyche of society, imprinting yet more shame on the female body. Somehow periods have become a bad thing. They have evolved into an inevitable embarrassment; something to conceal; something only women need to deal with alone, away from the eyes and ears of the general public. Tampon tax has capitalised on this. If we feel like we can’t talk about periods, we won’t talk about a tax on menstruation. If we don’t talk about tampon tax, how can we ever change it?
While there are heaps of harms to backing tampon tax (which separates it from other taxes that we might also deem unfair) there are virtually no benefits to supporting it. The average tax rate set on sanitary products around the globe is 20%. The French Government has recently refused to drop tampon tax simply because they argue it makes them too much money. Besides the obvious point that they probably shouldn’t be making money out of sexism, this argument isn’t simply false. On average, a woman will spend between €30 and €60 on sanitary products each year, lending an average of €9 a year to the taxman in a country collecting 20% tampon tax. The French population (roughly 64 million, of which around 15 million will menstruate) will raise approximately €130 million from tampon tax each year. Although this might sound like a lot, it only constitutes 0.01% of the 2013/14 annual tax revenue raised by France. Essentially, it’s not enough to justify the harms it imposes (not that any amount should ever be enough to mitigate misogyny).
For as long as tampon tax continues, women and trans men will continue to be alienated and marginalized from society, their place within which will be jeopardized along with their health. It’s time to reduce tampon tax to the lowest rate of tax possible in every country and to declassify it as a luxurious good. Period.
To find out more about the Tampon Tax campaign and the work Laura Coryton has been involved in, follow her at @LauraCoryton or sign the petition to end tampon tax here: https://www.change.org/p/george-osborne-stop-taxing-periods-period
All views in this post are not representative of Irise and the work which they do. This blog is part of a series of blogs used to promote awareness of menstrual heath and gender equality.