Anything but a luxury: periods, and why dignity should be free

At no point during the pasta-filled weeks of my student budget do I think to myself “you know what, I cannot live without some caviar this week”. It’s a luxury. Period. Which is ironic, considering that my ‘time of the month’ is apparently also just that.

A grandiose display of masculine ideals has landed us in this predicament. I don’t queue up on the way back from Majorca to buy tampons in duty free like I might do my vodka. It’s an essential, I need it. It says a lot about the government and those seated within it, that this fact (yes, fact. I don’t have control over my uterus, sorry) has been ignored. Today, on the day of the #freeperiods protest in Parliament Square, awareness must be raised in the pursuit of change.

The European Commission claims sanitary products to be “non-essential”, and therefore taxable. If it wasn’t already absurd that I get charged £1.50 for two measly tampons in the women’s toilets dispenser, I actually get taxed for my luxurious lifestyle. Sniff. How can anyone let this ruling pass us by without question? I ask this amidst stories of girls showing up to schools with socks stuffed in their underwear, afraid to ask for help.

I’m getting contradictory messages here. See, I grew up thinking that my education was essential. But I can assure you now, no one can concentrate on the whiteboard if they’re worried they might leak. It’s a side of British inequality conveniently tucked away due to stigma – because few want to admit that they actually menstruate, never mind that they are unable to pay for it. And that’s how we’ve landed here, in an era of Period Poverty.

Yet the government has swept the issue under the carpet. Whilst members of the government claim that a 5% tax is the lowest available under EU law for non-essential items, an improvement on past taxations of 17.5%, they’re missing the point. That lobbying for these classifications to be changed is vital, and to turn a blind eye to the issue is ignorant. Justine Greening, our Education Secretary, who said that the responsibility of sanitary product provision lies on the shoulders of parents and schools, is also missing the point. Today and all the days ensuing, I question this. If I can walk into a clinic and receive free contraception, armed with the knowledge that sex is a choice, why can I not receive the tools I require for a process that isn’t? Feminine hygiene is apparently subordinate to sexual activity.

This issue is by no means new. But in an age of austerity, when girls are staying at home to be near a toilet instead of learning to write, it’s time we step up to the bat. Getting your period isn’t a luxury, but as wallets fail to stretch to monthly supplies, the confidence to go about daily life as normal is becoming one.

Periods: some might say a hard topic to breach. I might take the day off now, treat myself and head to my local supermarket to buy some panty liners. Insert the eye roll wherever you’d like.

Emily Merrill

For more information about the protest go to

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