Comment: It’s time to stop the tax on periods

Tampons - גביע האלופות
Tampons currently have a ‘luxury’ tax

Periods are annoying. Exuding blood and uterine tissue out of your vagina for a week is a massive inconvenience. Awful tummy cramps remind you it’s that time of month again. The bloating, backache, headaches and mood swings are unsolicited. We’ve all ruined our favourite pair of knickers and occasionally smeared a bed sheet or two. It’s a major monthly hassle and something we don’t talk enough about.

For most women with a regular menstrual cycle, the time of month is expected and worked around. For those of us with irregular patterns, the immediate benefits of sporadic menstruation are reaped but the period always creeps up on us even heavier at the least desirable of times. Carrying a spare tampon or pad is a necessity for most. Sanitary protection products are necessary, essential items per se. This has somehow been disregarded by our government which absurdly deems sanitary products as luxury and ‘non-essential’ items which are consequently subject to taxation.

A current petition to stop this period tax is successfully conveying an important message. Over 200,000 people have signed the ‘Stop taxing periods. Period.’ campaign launched by Laura Coryton, a student at Goldsmiths University. The aim of the petition is to shine light on an unjust sex-specific tax that women have been paying on their periods for over 40 years. In 1973, the UK joined the Common Market, the EU as we know it today, and adopted the VAT system under which tampons and pads were first taxed at 17.5%. Successful campaigning efforts brought this tax down to a reduced rate of 5% in 2001, but the battle persists. Sanitary products are essential items and should be exempt from tax.

Tampons and pads are wonderful creations. They have revolutionised menstrual health for women and serve an important purpose in managing a bleeding vagina, effectively allowing us to continue with our normal routines in public or private life. We are privileged to have access to such simple, life-saving products. Millions of girls and women in the world face daily restrictions and further health problems from the lack of such products and poor hygiene. I would argue that access to maternal and menstrual healthcare, which includes safe sanitary products, should be a right and not a privilege, but that’s one for another day. Should I be grateful that I have such amenities instead of nit-picking over an arguably miniscule 5% tax rate?

Yes, grateful I am. But relative progress is always to be made, and the tax on periods is fundamentally sexist. It reflects the outdated patriarchal decisions of a once, and still, male-dominated government. It reflects the continued blindness towards sex-specific issues which have been side-lined for too long. It reflects a certain subjugation of women. It reflects the wider lacking knowledge of and unacquaintance with women’s issues, which despite predominantly affecting women, are not exclusively so and should not be pushed aside to the confined domain of women.

This period tax needs to go because sanitary products are essential and because it is discriminatory on the basis of sex. We are being taxed for being women. I would like to think that it isn’t a deliberate tax but simply another indicator of the male-focused agenda which has incessantly underpinned both politics and the public sphere. An end to period tax might seem like a small gain to be made, but its symbolic value will speak volumes.

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