There has been an air of silence hanging around the subject of menstruation since time immemorial. Numerous myths and taboos were used to explain the monthly discharge. Many cultures isolate women even today during their periods to avoid the “polluting touch” that was believed to wither flowers. Despite the education received in schools at a very early age, menstruation remains an awkward, irrelevant topic of discussion in today’s society, which is why many women are unaware of the unfair taxes imposed on female hygiene products, which are categorized as non-essential goods.
A Taxing Issue
The fact that tampons are subject to tax was unknown to me. And I bet you didn’t know either!
Tampon Tax is a term used to refer to the sales tax or value-added tax levied on tampons and other hygiene products for women because these products are classified as non-essential, unlike other basic and essential products that are exempt from this tax. The term broke the Internet this year after Scotland made history by becoming the first country in the world where pads are available absolutely free of cost! It is the first country to recognize access to hygiene products as a right, unlike other countries where tampons and other menstrual products are considered luxury items, placed in the same category as alcohol and jewellery.
The critics of tampon tax argue that female sanitary products are basic necessities and should be made tax-free. They contend that the tax is discriminatory to women and that it is unjust that women are being taxed for simply ‘being women’.
Women use these products for a week every month, and estimates state that the total duration of every menstrual cycle put together amounts to 10 years of a woman’s lifetime. And yet tampons are considered a luxury?
Our laws only recognize groceries, medicine and, in some countries, clothes as basic necessities. Tampons are definitely not included in the list. This is another gender injustice faced by women who have already been raging on about the unjust difference in wages between men and women. Menstrual napkins are not a choice; it is not something women have control over. It is a natural process that biologically marks the transition of a girl to womanhood. And yet tampons are sidelined as unnecessary and disgusting by the so-called progressive laws of the 21st century.
What is ‘Period Poverty’?
‘Period poverty’ refers to the state of being unable to afford pads or other menstrual products that are necessary during the monthly duration of vaginal bleeding. Hundreds of women die every year due to a lack of access to sanitary napkins and hygiene products. With the ongoing pandemic, period poverty is ever on the rise, and the loss of jobs and dislocation across borders has fueled period poverty among women. And this is not just a problem among women in third-world countries; it is a prevalent issue even in first world countries like the UK and the USA, often leading to depression and shame.
Depending on income and the tax imposed on menstrual products, women may find it difficult to afford hygiene products. This is made even worse by the taboos practised in society that sham menstruating women. Lack of access to sanitary products is an ongoing issue in India, where women in villages do not have the means to buy them. Public awareness about menstrual taboos and issues faced by menstruating women was heightened by the movie Pad Man and the campaigns initiated by Bollywood movie star Akshay Kumar along with the Niine Movement. The controversial debate around the 12% tax on tampons in India triggered by the movie Pad Man led to a repeal of the tax in 2018.
A New Period
Campaigns and movements against the discriminate taxing of tampons have led to new reforms and the slashing of tax rates. However, these products are still being taxed in many countries.
Hashtag activism and online petitions against tampon tax strives to achieve menstrual equity and calls out against the legal statutes that brand them as non-essential goods. Some of the movements that started across the world against Tampon Tax are ‘Free the Tampon’, #Free Periods, The Red Box Project and India’s Niine movement.
Countries like Canada, Australia, India, Kenya, Rwanda and Germany have cut down taxes on products for women. Germany is one step behind Scotland and has cut down its taxes on sanitary products from 19% to 7% as part of its initiatives to reform tax standards that are unfair to women. Rwanda, an East African country, abolished the tax imposed on hygiene products after observing an increased rate of female students dropping out of school and workplaces due to the unaffordability of sanitary napkins. Australia repealed its tax on sanitary products in 2019 after years of campaigning and protests. Kenya was the first of these countries to eradicate tax on sanitary products in 2004. Kenya was followed by Canada, another country where tampon taxes were removed after an online petition was filed and signed by the public. Other examples include Ireland and India.
Scotland has taken a giant leap in the interest of eradicating period poverty and eliminating the taboos associated with menstruation. Scotland is a model for other countries where women suffer from health problems related to menstrual hygiene and the inaccessibility of sanitary napkins. Let us hope that other nations take a cue from Scotland’s initiative to eradicate period poverty and make a less expensive world for women worldwide.
Menstruation is not a choice. Break the stigma. Free the Tampon.