By Emma Foster
On January 1, 2021, the so-called “tampon tax” was abolished in Great Britain, as the country had left the EU on December 31, 2020. This was a significant event in a 20 year struggle to break free from a law that, let’s face it, was inherently sexist.
Since 1973, sanitary products have been classified as “luxury items” under EU law and are therefore subject to a tax of at least 5%. This is despite contraceptive methods such as condoms and birth control as well as hygiene products (even razors for men!) That do not bear any taxes at all. This begs the question; If recreational sex (ie sex without the purpose of reproduction) and the care of men’s facial hair are classified as essential, then why have products been classified as “not essential” for periods of time?
Perhaps this can be traced back to the fundamentally patriarchal society we live in, along with the longstanding taboo on the subject. Gemma Abbot, lawyer and activist for the Free Periods Group, said, “Any tax that marks period products as non-essential is absurd and has no place in a society that seeks true gender equality.” Periods are not a choice, they are Naturally; Sanitary products are not a luxury, they are a necessity.
This progress is the result of the government’s initiative to end poverty. Period poverty, according to the Royal College of Nursing, is “the lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints”. According to a representative survey conducted by Plan International UK of 1,000 girls and young women aged 14-21, one in ten girls cannot afford to buy menstrual products, while one in seven has difficulty affording them.
Periods are not a choice, they are natural; Sanitary products are not a luxury, they are a necessity
One of the direct problems of period poverty is its impact on a girl’s education. According to Plan International estimates, 49% of girls missed a full day of school because of their school days, so predict that a girl who misses a full day every time she goes to school will have 145 days of education behind her peers. This does not take into account her limited ability to concentrate and perform at school if she suffers from period pain. This is a menstrual side effect that receives very little attention, let alone an effective treatment.
While the government is not addressing the problem of period pain itself, it does include the introduction of free sanitary products for schools, colleges and hospitals in addition to abolishing the tampon tax. In 2015 they also founded the Tampon Tax Fund with the aim of providing the revenue from VAT on sanitary products for projects to support vulnerable women and girls. This means that the money earned will be given back to women in need. A fund that we must all hope that it will continue despite the end of the tax.
If these new measures are successful, they should have a great impact on girls’ school attendance during their periods, but most importantly, they should help reduce and remove the stigma and embarrassment during periods. A survey of 150 teachers and students conducted by Sex Ed Matters found that 100% of respondents felt that periods were still a stigma.
This is usually crucial in the fight against poverty: if a girl is embarrassed, how long does it take, how pleasant will she feel asking for products and help? However, it also seems to be up to the schools to recognize the elephant in the room. According to Gemma Abbot, by the last semester (Fall 2020) only 40% of schools had signed up to the program to provide free sanitary products in schools. It is crucial that the other 60% join the program so that every girl benefits equally from the help provided. Without the support and drive from schools to provide the girls with care, the changes we want to see will not happen.
The next step should be to introduce subsidies for sanitary products
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said of the abolition of the tax: “I am proud that today we are keeping our promise to abolish the tampon tax. Sanitary products are essential, so we don’t charge VAT. This commitment brings us one step closer to making it available and affordable to all women. “Hearing a male cabinet member speak with openness, compassion, and even passion for women’s issues seems like a new and promising horizon that should fill us with hope.
What financial difference will this make for women? The Treasury has predicted this will save women about £ 40 over the course of their lives, with a discount of 7p on a box of 20 tampons and 5p on a box of 12 pads. While the abolition of the tampon tax represents a theoretical shift in perception and stigma over time, these statistics show that it’s questionable whether it does practical enough to help women. After the tax is abolished, the next step should be to introduce subsidies for such products.
We just have to look north of the border into Scotland to see an example of a country that respects and honors its women by being the first in the world to offer free sanitary products. A true milestone in the fight against poverty in the period when the government has recognized that it is their duty to bear the cost of paying for these products so that their female citizens are better equipped to menstruate.
One possible solution to the financial problem women face could be the recent emergence of environmentally friendly, sustainable sanitary products. Because of their sustainability, the use of menstrual cups and reusable pads and tampon applicators would mean a significant decrease in the spending women spend on sanitary products throughout their lives. While a menstrual cup costs around £ 20, it lasts for several years, which means it pays off in six to eight months, according to Mooncup. In addition, the significant influence of reusable products on reducing the amount of pathogenic waste that is created by sanitary products cannot be denied.
Around a fifth of the plastic found on UK beaches comes from sanitary products
The specific effects of hygiene articles on the environment are not known. However, when you consider the enormous amounts of plastic used in each one, from packaging to applicators to leak-proof bottoms of sanitary pads and even the string of a tampon. The picture doesn’t look good. Around a fifth of the plastic found on the UK’s beaches comes from sanitary ware products, with the vast majority being single-use and non-recyclable.
Anna Borowski, who studied the environmental impact of sanitary products, put it in a nutshell: “I don’t want to put 40 years of garbage in a landfill just to manage something that shouldn’t even be seen as a problem … It seems like something us should have a little more control now. I don’t want that kind of burden on the planet. “
This does not mean that these products will appeal to all women. From the many conversations I have had with friends and family about reusable alternatives, it appears that these products often contain words such as “disgusting,” “unsanitary,” and “untrustworthy,” to name a few. While they offer a solution to financial and environmental problems caused by periods, they still have a long way to go before many women will see them as trustworthy and accepted.
Despite the abolition of the tampon tax, it is clear that much more needs to be done to truly hope for an end to poverty. Scotland is at the forefront of its action, but for change to occur we must work to de-stigmatize periods so that girls and women can make progress on the path to gender equality.
Image: Josefin via Unsplash.