tampon

Feminists of the World Unite Against Bullshit Tampon Tax

Here’s something I find more fun than squeezing clots of blood out of my vagina for five days a month: Being taxed for it. Oh wait, did I say fun? I meant total fucking bullshit. 

Governments around the world tax much-needed menstrual products like pads and tampons, claiming that these products are not necessities. Which they’re not, if you want me bleeding on your garden furniture. However, for those of us who understand it is everyone’s right to both not bleed on your subway seat and make rent (I know, the luxury), menstrual products are a necessity and taxing them is clearly sexist.

The tampon tax issue has gained fantastic global momentum in the past few years, in countries like the United States, Canada, India, Australia, and beyond.

Most recently the issue crossed my newsfeed following the Indian government’s 2017 tax circular, in which sanitary napkins were classified as a luxury good and taxed at 12% —and sindoor, the red pigment many women wear to indicate that they’re married, wasn’t taxed at all. As the folks at Feminism in India pointed out, the message was loud and clear: For the government, a woman’s marital status is more important than her right to access basic healthcare.

And India isn’t the only country where these kinds of double standards are alive and thriving: As many American feminists have pointed out, we live in a country where most states tax menstrual products, but don’t tax Viagra and even some kinds of shampoo.

But never fear, feminists: The movement against menstrual injustice is gushing forth like my period on day 3, and in some places (like duh Canada) it has even triumphed! So unwrap those pads, slide in those tampons, and let’s take a fun journey to just a few destinations in the global fight against the evil sexist tampon tax.

The United States

Ah, yes—ye olde USA. Red, white, and blue, baby—and by that I mean, lots of red on my white underwear because with the exception of a handful of mostly blue statestampons are still taxed in the United States. 

The issue, however, has never been hipper (or vagina-er), with the tampon tax being described as “viral legislation.” A steady flow of state legislators have introduced anti-tampon tax bills this year alone, with women and democrats leading the way.

A growing trickle of true heroes has emerged. A group of Ohio women have sued the state to end its tampon tax. The city of Chicago has lifted its tax. New York lifted the tax on menstrual products in fall 2016 (enforcement, however, remains spotty). New York City, one-upping New York State in all things, has also voted to provide free menstrual supplies in public schools, shelters, and prisons. Louisiana is on the way.

India

In response to the recent announcement of the 12% sales tax on menstrual products, a social media campaign, “Lahu ka Lagaan,” or “Tax on Blood,” stormed Twitter. Tweeters asked the question: In a country where the majority of menstruating people can’t access basic sanitary products, shouldn’t the government get its priorities straight?

Indeed, taxation on menstrual products is India is a small part of a broader structural and material problem: Menstrual products aren’t accessible to women in the first place. According to Feminism in India, there are roughly 335 million people who menstruate in India. Of them, an estimated 70% can’t afford, or don’t have access to, sanitary napkins. And what access they do have is eroded by inadequate waste disposal methods and menstrual stigma. Feminism in India’s recent campaign, “The Pad Effect,” coincided with global Menstrual Hygiene Day to increase access to sustainable menstruation products.

The UK

In the UK, the tampon tax has made its way into national elections. Thanks to the work of fabulous feminists, in 2016 Britain had gotten the EU’s permission to eliminate its tampon tax. But then—plot twist—a little thing called Brexit happened, and hopes for an immediate end to the tampon tax (also hopes for a bright and inclusive future), were stalled. In a similarly disturbing twist, while the Conservative party had promised that proceeds from the tampon tax would be donated to women’s rights organizations, they actually ended up helping to fund an anti-abortion group. Gross.

But as the reality of “period poverty”—including girls unable to attend school during menstruation for lack of sanitary products—galvanizes action, the BBC reports that the tampon tax has reemerged as a national issue. The Green Party and the Liberal Democrats have already come out in support of removing the tampon tax and providing sanitary products free of cost to public school students and low-income menstruators.

On the other end of the spectrum, the UKIP, which had pledged to remove the tampon tax by (this is super predictable) seceding from the European Union, has included in this year’s election manifesto, and I quote, “We will remove VAT from hot takeaway food such as fish and chips, and from women’s sanitary products.” Yup, they mentioned fish and chips right next to the tampon tax—isn’t nationalism charming?

Beyond the Tampon Tax

But wait—like that little extra bonus on day five when I basically always assume my period is over and wear white lace panties without a panty liner, there’s more.

Because when it comes to the right to a safe and stigma-free period, the tampon tax isn’t the only thing on the feminist agenda. Movements for “menstrual equity” include worldwide campaigns to destroy menstruation stigma, make menstrual care gender neutral, and promote access to sustainable menstrual products.

So keep fighting the good fight, menstrual warriors. And meanwhile, if anyone has recs on a good menstrual cup in order to support my own personal period revolution (everyone keeps bragging about their menstrual cups and I want in), get at me.

Reina Gattuso is passionate about empowering conversations around queerness, sexual ethics, and social movements with equal parts rhapsody and sass. Her writing has appeared at Time, Bitch, attn:, and The Washington Post. She is currently pursuing a masters degree in Indian cinema, theater, and visual art at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

Reina Gattuso writes about her sex life for the good of human kind.

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