Lucy Stewart explains why the tax on periods is undeniably sexist
This article is part of That’s What She Said’s ‘Period Week’. To read the introduction to ‘Period Week’ check out Maya Jones’ article: https://twssmagazine.com/2015/06/01/its-period-week/
Statistics vary across the internet about how many sanitary products a menstruating person may use in their lifetime but roughly, menstruating people will use more than 11,000 tampons or pads. And the conclusion an intense Google search has lead me to is that this means spending around eighty pounds a year on sanitary products.
If you consider the fact that roughly half the population menstruates for on average 5-7 days, every month, for around 30 years, that’s a lot of sanitary products simply to allow them to go about their daily life whilst menstruating. And that means a lot of money.
We criticise other governments across the world for not recognising menstrual hygiene as a real health issue, for allowing those menstruating to risk infection, or miss days of school. And yet, in our own country, menstruation is treated in a similar way.
Despite the amount of undeniably essential products those menstruating need, sanitary products continue to be taxed, and the tax on these products proves that menstruation is not considered a real health issue, but something to make a profit out of. And this is a clearly gendered issue when we consider the fact that many other products, men’s razors especially springing to mind, remain untaxed.
While most of us are lucky and can probably stretch the weekly budget to buy the necessary products, there are those who can’t and the result is that here in the UK, many menstruating people are also struggling with the consequences that menstruating will bring.
On being asked about removing sanitary tax, David Cameron responded that it will be “very difficult to do but I’ll have to go away and have a look and come back to you”; his words, if somewhat uninspiring, do at least highlight the tricky fact that tax cannot just be removed with a few carefree words. Indeed, the process of tax is a necessary part of life in the UK, and it is dangerous to view the concept of tax, including sanitary tax as an entirely negative phenomenon. This is in fact a particularly difficult process as no separate member of the EU can revise VAT allocations without the EU’s permission, and so EU law makes the removal of tax difficult.
But that’s not the problem here. The problem is that this specific tax is inherently gendered and sexist. In 1973, after the UK joined the Common Market, a 17.5% sanitary tax was introduced. The reason it was introduced? Sanitary products were classified as ‘non-essential, luxury’ items.
Although in 2000, Labour MP Dawn Primarolo announced that in the following year, the sanitary tax would be reduced to 5%, the reasoning behind the tax cannot be ignored; reducing the tax amount still does not justify its initial reasons for existence and its current continuation.
The undeniable sexism surrounding sanitary tax lead Laura Coryton to start the ‘Stop Taxing Periods. Period’ online petition on www.change.org in 2014. The goal of her petition is to reduce the UK’s ‘outdated, damaging’ sanitary tax from five to zero percent.
When interviewed by Radhika Sanghani for the Telegraph in 2014, Coryton explained that sanitary tax ‘sends out a damaging message to society and says women aren’t important.’ She explains that ‘it’s important to overturn mainly because of the original reason the tax was placed – which was because a really male dominated parliament thought sanitary products weren’t essential.’
At the time of writing, this, the petition has 238, 533 supporters, and is aiming to reach 300,000 in order to get the voices of those menstruating heard.
As the ‘Stop Taxing Periods. Period’ online petition explains, ‘essential items should not be taxed because tax implements a monetary discouragement that lessens a product’s accessibility and affordability.’ The petition goes on to argue that ‘tax allocations should expose the needs of society as a whole,’ and this is clearly a tax that does not do that; sanitary tax effects a very specific portion of the population and those who menstruate should not be penalised for having to buy products in order to cope with menstruation.
So while, realistically, changing the tax on sanitary products from five to zero percent may not make a huge amount of difference to the price of tampons in the UK, it is the symbolism of what this represents that is most important. It is a big win for the rights of those menstruating, most of which are women, and it is a big step in forcing society to see the biological problems women face as being important, too.
While essential, tax exempt products currently include helicopters, alcoholic jellies, and exotic meats such as crocodile and kangaroo, those menstruating are still being treated in an unjust and unnecessary way.
Pressure is now growing on the UK’s government to cut the tax on sanitary products as Canada has recently made the decision to scrap the tax from July. If Canada can do it, it would seem that so can we.
To sign the petition to ‘Stop Taxing Periods. Period,’ head to Change.org here: https://www.change.org/p/george-osborne-stop-taxing-periods-period
Image: las – initially (Lori Semprevio)