Women who menstruate (and those who menstruate who don’t identify as women), have to pay tax on top of what they already have to fork out for sanitary products. This is because they are classified as non-essential, luxury items.
Let’s be honest with ourselves: if men had periods, sanitary products would be free, or at the very least tax-free. I’m not saying that in a resentful way. I’m saying it because guys would simply not stand for having to pay, let alone be taxed for, the material between their legs which allowed them to go about their business.
To clarify, I am in favour of paying taxes. I’m especially in favour of companies like Apple and Google paying them. I am not in favour however, of being taxed for a bodily function over which I have no control. This also isn’t because I feel personally aggrieved that the money isn’t going in my pocket, though I could definitely use it to buy an extra packs of sanitary pads. The extra money- estimated to be around three pounds a year- is for most of us, not that much. But for the poorest women in our society, three pounds could be the difference between eating and going hungry. Besides, it’s the principle, isn’t it? It’s always the principle.
There is no logical justification in the classification of sanitary products as non-essential, luxury items. A or discovering your purse is empty when you’ve run out of tampons. Without affordable sanitary products, those women who menstruate are prevented from leading a normal life, both in public and in private.
Anyone who has either experienced a period or knows anything about them knows that there is nothing luxurious about the feeling of menstrual cramps.
It’s even more baffling when you study the list of supposedly ‘essential’, tax-exempt products. This once included men’s razors. If making women pay extra for unwanted bleeding while men are afforded the luxury of shaving off their beard isn’t discrimination, then I don’t know what is.
Perhaps the most illogical item currently on the list is incontinence pads, which are essentially the same product as pads. Also included are various exotic meats, flapjacks and Jaffa Cakes. Call me crazy, but I would rather pay 20% VAT on some Jaffa Cakes and know that I wasn’t being taxed for an involuntary bodily function. Those who do not menstruate can think of this Jaffa Cake tax as a small price to pay for not dealing with periods every month for most of their life.
In an ideal world, I would like sanitary products, like contraception in this country, to be free. After all, menstrual hygiene, like contraception, is a health issue. Unwashed rags carry the risk of vaginal infection, even urinary tract infection.
Sadly though, we may be waiting a while for that. For an item to become exempt from tax, all 28 member states in the EU would have to agree on it. And to be fair to past governments, the tax was reduced to 5 percent back in 2001, the lowest it can be under EU law. George Osborne’s next budget is in March and it’s unlikely that we will see any change in that. However, the very least we can do is lobby whoever is in power after the General Election to bring this issue up in European Parliament.
In an ideal world, I would like sanitary products, like contraception in this country, to be free. After all, menstrual hygiene, like contraception, is a health issue.
If the UK could stop taxing menstruation, it would set a precedent around the world, in countries where menstruation is still horrifically taboo and products are inaccessible. In India for instance, an AC Nielsen survey in 2011 found that only 12 percent of women in India use sanitary pads because of the stigma that surrounds monthly bleeding. UNICEF estimates that 10 percent of African girls don’t attend school during their periods. Without affordable, accessible products, having periods can mean missed education, missed work and missed pay.
Feminism has bigger battles than this to fight, all over the world. But I am a firm believer in starting small, with what we can change, and making periods affordable and accessible is just that.