Tampon tax: A global issue perpetuating gender inequality
“Tampon tax” has become somewhat of a buzz phrase in recent years. This term refers to feminine hygiene products being subject to value-added tax or sales tax. These items do not qualify for an exemption status granted to other products that are considered basic necessities. It is alarming that in the 21st century, feminine hygiene products are deemed “luxury items” and are therefore subject to a “luxury tax” which differs significantly from country to country.
The tax applied to period products contributes to a phenomenon called period poverty. Experienced on a global scale by people who menstruate, the lack of affordable menstrual hygiene products can have a profound negative impact on mental health. In a world that still considers menstruation to be a taboo subject and in some cultures is stigmatised, the shame and fear that surrounds periods are very real for those who cannot afford period products.
No one should live in fear of the arrival of their monthly cycle. All over the world, even in prosperous nations, menstruators are forced to improvise with rags, toilet paper or old newspapers. These are not only uncomfortable solutions, they are potentially dangerous. Making period products out of whatever they can find puts menstruators at risk of developing urogenital infections.
No one should live in fear of the arrival of their monthly cycle.
Girls are missing out on a significant chunk of their education, forced to stay at home while they are menstruating. It is estimated that globally girls miss 10-20% of school days due to their periods. Some even have to drop out of school completely due to a lack of support and resources.
A recent survey conducted in the UK found that one in 10 girls had to miss school due to the lack of access to period products. In India, as many as 1 in 5 girls drop out of school after they get their periods. Unable to afford menstrual products and because they are ashamed to buy them.
Keeping girls in school is not only important for their own health and well-being, but for the success of the entire community. In developing countries, educated women and girls are less likely to experience child marriage, face domestic abuse, and suffer from long-term health complications. They are more likely to have fewer, healthier children, who in turn, are more likely to receive an education and escape the poverty cycle.
What is being done to remove tampon tax?
More and more people are campaigning to fight against the taxation of feminine hygiene products. When half the world's population needs to use period products for a week each month, every month for around 30 years, governments and societies are waking up to the fact that menstruators have been suffering in silence for years.
Campaigners are demanding the removal of this tax with the declaration that menstrual bleeding is not a luxury. This is an issue of gender inequality that permeates societies all over the world. Taxes imposed by people who have never experienced menstruation themselves.
Until 2021, Ireland was the only country in Europe that had zero-tax on sanitary products. Countries such as Canada, India, Kenya and Australia have also abolished these taxes and in January of this year, the UK became the latest country to follow suit. However, this only paints a small part of a much bigger picture. The majority of countries in the world still impose high taxes on period items. Although some countries have made efforts to reduce it, the question remains, why are these items taxed at all?
In 2020, Germany lowered the VAT from 17% to 9%. In March 2019, only ten states in America considered menstrual products as necessities and exempted them from sales tax. In Hungary, the tampon tax is the highest in the world at 27% followed by Sweden at 25% and Argentina at 20%.
In 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world to make free access to period products a legal right.
In November 2020, Scotland became the first country in the world to make free access to period products a legal right. The Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to provide access to sanitary projects for free in all public buildings. This is a trailblazing move by Scotland. Not only has Scotland become a pioneer in the battle against period poverty but they are a leading example of a nation working to close the gender inequality gap. We can only hope that other countries will follow their lead.
Great progress is being made, but we must not stop campaigning against the tax on sanitary items. Menstruation is not a choice, and for those that cannot afford period products, or are ashamed to buy them, every month they are filled with dread upon the arrival of their period. Menstruation is something that should be celebrated and seen as something beautiful, not as something to be hidden away, shameful and taxed.
Let's end period poverty and fight for menstrual equity together. Continue campaigning and challenging government policies. Get involved in your local community, look for organisations that work with schools and women's shelters that ask for donations of period products, make a monetary donation to a charity that provides these items. No one should be left to suffer in silence.