Thursday, 19 November 2015

The Tampon Tax

by Charlotte Phillips

On 26th October, 2015, our elected representatives voted on a motion dubbed by the media as the 'tampon tax'. The supposedly well educated, level headed and reasonable individuals who make up our parliament overwhelmingly demonstrated through this vote the true extent of misogyny and sexism in not just our government but our entire country.

Tampons, and indeed all sanitary items, were taxed at 17.5% along with all other products levied with VAT until a labour campaign cut the tax down to 5% in the early 2000s.  A recent petition: "Stop taxing periods. Period." has gained huge support collecting over 250000 signatures, forcing parliament to debate the possibility of amending the current law and reducing the tax to 0%. This they did, with disappointing results showing extremely antiquated attitudes: the amendment was rejected by 305 to 287 votes.

Some argue that, with such a small tax anyway, what's the problem? However, every penny over a lifetime adds up shockingly. Although we never really stop to think about it, when we do, it seems that being taxed for having a uterus has a significant financial cost when cumulated over many years. The average woman will menstruate monthly for around 45 years of her life, meaning that on average a woman will experience 540 periods. The maths is not difficult: if a woman uses 4-5 feminine hygiene products such as tampons or sanitary towels each day of her period, she will use approximately 12000 products in a lifetime. When a packet of just 20 or so of these products costs around £4 (and this is the most basic brand- no 'luxury' here), a woman on the average wage has to work for 37 days just to pay off the cost of having a female anatomy. When the wage gap is still disgustingly prevalent, this only worsens the problem. So the next time a man complains about being expected to pay for a meal on a date, perhaps consider the fact that you don't have to be expected to pay for maintaining your personal dignity, comfort and hygiene.

Because it is a matter of personal dignity. Perhaps the male dominated politics arena is ignorant to the realities of menstruation, but not being able to afford sanitary items essentially means being housebound for a week, which is simply not realistic for anyone in the modern age. Given the number of families relying on food banks and charities for their basic commodities, it is not hard to imagine many women being forced to choose between food for their children or sanitary products for themselves. Things have to change: the frustration comes from the fact that we had the opportunity for change, and simply didn't take it.

But it's not really about the physical cost. Evidently the cost is a huge problem for thousands of women up and down Britain, and is a huge factor in this debate. But it's more about the attitudes behind this decision, the engrained misogyny that led to the decision not to decrease the tax on sanitary products. Women cannot help having periods, it is an occurrence that is inevitable for those with female reproductive systems (unless they are on birth control, which indeed many women take simply to prevent having to spend money on sanitary products). To suggest that sanitary products be classed as 'non-essential' is ridiculous, but for them to be categorised as 'luxury' items is simply insulting, especially when you consider that products such as jaffacakes are not taxed at all. Luxury items are opt-in, but you can't choose not to menstruate. When birth control pills and condoms are available free on the NHS (as they rightly should be), why not the most basic and necessary items of all? It may be cynical to suggest it's because they have no direct benefit to the men who make up our government, but considering men's razors are not taxed at all, this seems to be the case.

One of the worst elements of this controversy is that even many female MPs voted to keep the tax, using seemingly incomprehensible reasoning. This just demonstrates the huge social impact of misogynistic attitudes, and the internalised misogyny that needs to be reduced on a wider scale, indeed a world scale. This vote also re-emphasises the inequality of democratic representation in our parliament: there needs to be more gender balance in Westminster. Asides from the obvious benefits of more equality on all decisions made by our MPs- perhaps they will finally represent the fact that half of the British population are female- maybe the vote on is amendment would have taken a very different path. Many may argue that as long as our MPs are intelligent and reasonable, they have a valid opinion. Yes, because who better to vote on the tampon tax than people who will never need or use a tampon in their lives?

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