Tampon Tax: the luxury of being a woman in GB

To this day, there is something most societies feel uncomfortable talking about and that is women’s period. Crucially, many problems women face because of their period are also not talked about, and therefore not addressed.

www.freethetampons.org

Recently, an online petition calling for an end to a tax on sanitary products for women in Britain has recently hit 194,500 signatures. Tampons and sanitary pads are in fact classified as “non-essential, luxury items” by HM Revenue and Customs and taxed 5%. That means that every woman pays an average of £3 for this tax per year and the government earns about £45 million annually. The tax is the result of a 1973 law and at that time the rate was 17.5%. Following a successful campaign in 2000, VAT on tampons and sanitary towels was reduced to 5%. Today, the campaigners argue that the "tampon tax" limits the accessibility and affordability of crucial healthcare products. Many would probably argue that £3 does not impact significantly on a woman’s budget, yet it is not solely about the money but also about the symbolism of the tax and the assumptions on which it is based.

Every woman would agree that there is nothing “luxurious” about getting one’s period and that labelling tampons “non-essential” is simply ridiculous. Yet they are considered to be less essential than men’s razor blades, since these are tax-free. What makes the “tampon tax” even more absurd is the list of other items that are not taxed, which includes continence pads, exotic meats and edible sugar flowers. Disposable nappies are also not taxed although they are made with a similar material and serve a similar purpose. While one can live without eating crocodile meat and sugar flowers women need tampons to go to work, to the gym, essentially to function while on their period. The petition organiser Laura Coryton has said, “They are essential because without them, those who menstruate would have no way of pursuing a normal, flexible, public or private life and would be at risk of jeopardising their health.”

The tax is inherently sexist bceause women are being taxed because of their period, as if they bled monthly by choice or had chosen to be the gender biologically capable of pregnancy. Sadly, for many women in the world tampons are indeed a luxury, but that should not be the case. The truth is, as Jessica Valenti wrote a year ago in an article calling for tampons to be free, that “too many governments don’t recognize feminine hygiene as a health issue.”

The British government claims lifting the tax is a complicated matter due to EU regulations. EU law poses a limit of 5% on taxable goods and in order to change the law all 28 countries would have to agree. Politicians are telling the campaigners that reaching consensus on lifting the tax is very difficult and so the petition runs the risk of being inconclusive.

While we celebrate the international women’s day the petition to end the “tampon tax” reminds us how long the road to gender equality still is.

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