Australia moves to scrap tampon tax after student protest

I’d be lost without tampons. Well, not lost; I’d just be stuck in bed, unable to go about my daily business while my body punishes me for thwarting pregnancy yet again.And recently, I learned that my homeland, Australia, has been taxing those little silver cotton bullets for years. Not for much longer, though, thanks to one student activist, who called on the treasurer this week to drop the tax.

About 15 years ago, Australia introduced a 10% Goods and Services Tax (GST) from which very few consumer items are exempt. Condoms, sunscreen, incontinence pads, and other health items that the government has identified as important are exempt, but “sanitary products” – tampons, pads, panty liners – are not. Subeta Vimalarajah, a Sydney University student, thinks that’s unfair. She told BBC:

I’ve definitely had the experience of going to the supermarket to buy a box of tampons and being frustrated that I need to pay for them, but more significantly that the government is making a profit on my period. The biggest factor that annoys me is the inconsistency.

It’s one thing to make everything taxable, but it’s different when the government has identified “important” health goods as exempt, but refuses to acknowledge sanitary products as in this category. I can’t see the distinction between incontinence pads, nicotine patches, sunscreen and condoms (which are exempt) and sanitary products.

This week, Vimalarajah, with a giant prop tampon emblazoned with the words “Stop taxing my period” in tow, delivered a petition with over 90, 000 signatures to Treasurer Joe Hockey, asking him to lift the tax in his upcoming review of GST policy. And the review itself has received over 11, 000 submissions from people making the case for eliminating the tax. “One supporter sent me an email explaining the history that women in her family have with endometriosis, which has required them to pay large medical bills, in addition to sanitary products for periods that last three weeks of every month,” Vimalarajah wrote.

It’s not just people with severe period symptoms who deserve to be exempt, though: sanitary products, whatever kind you choose to use, cost money, and it’s a repeated cost that most of us will bear every month for decades. Last year, at The Guardian, Jessica Valenti wondered if sanitary products not just be cheaper, but if they should be free. For some people, she argued, the cost is just too great, and the government, if it’s not willing to take substantive steps to lift those people out of poverty, should at least subsidize their sanitary products:

In the United States, access to tampons and pads for low-income women is a real problem, too: food stamps don’t cover feminine hygiene products, so some women resort to selling their food stamps in order to pay for “luxuries” like tampons. Women in prison often don’t have access to sanitary products at all, and the high cost of a product that half the population needs multiple times a day, every month for approximately 30 years, is simply, well, bullshit… And in the US, though breast pumps, vasectomies and artificial teeth are sales tax-exempt and tax-deductible medical care, tampons are not even exempted from sales tax in some states (including California and New York, two of the most populous states).

In Australia, Vimalarajah’s work paid off: this week, she went toe to toe with national Treasurer Joe Hockey on live television, and he agreed to take the issue to July’s meeting of state treasurers (though not every state seems willing to get on board). Hats off to her for her hard work, and for her determination that Australians shouldn’t be taxed for their basic bodily functions. If we’re going to be punched in the stomach by our own bodies for a whole week straight for having the temerity not to be pregnant this month, we shouldn’t also be punched in the wallet.

h/t My mom, who bought me my first box of tampons.


New York, NY

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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