Each month for a good chunk of her life, a woman will pay out wads and wads of cash to deal with her period. Buying pads, tampons, menstrual cups—whatever products you choose—is pretty much a nonnegotiable for menstruating women. On top of the baseline fees, however, most countries around the world, including the U.S., charge what’s been called a “Tampon Tax” on these items, meaning women—who typically earn less than men—are paying extra for necessities.
Here’s the gist: In the U.S., state governments collect taxes on “non-essential” goods and services (think: stationery, electronics and art supplies, for example). They don’t collect taxes on essential items like food. Menstrual products fall into that first, non-essential category in most states, so even though the U.N. says the ability to exercise menstrual hygiene is a human right, half the population is paying out hard-earned money to the government that men will never have to spend. What’s more, a larger number of states exempt items such as candy and soda from sales taxes, but still tax menstrual products.
The cost of menstrual products is limiting for many women as it is, but adding a tax on top of that seems downright unjust when you consider the limited means of low-income and poor women. In the latest issue of Ms., we report on the circumstances of many homeless women who must endure a stressful search for menstrual products every month. Finding the money they need for these products is hard enough—the added tax may mean the difference between having a meal and not having one.
Women around the world have begun to speak out against the Tampon Tax. In California, two women, Rachel and Helen Lee, launched a Change.org petition calling on Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to “Axe the Pink Tax.” In their petition, they write,
[Women] can testify that these products are so indispensable to them because they prevent great health risks, keep conditions sanitary, and allow a woman to perform day-to-day tasks without being burdened … women are also more likely to live under the poverty line. For every dollar that a man earns, a woman working the same job makes 78 cents. Basic necessities become harder to afford, especially with this tax in place. Half of the population should not be financially penalized for their needs.
The outcry is beginning to have an impact. In May, Canada announced it would end the federal Tampon Tax beginning July 1 (the country levies a nationwide goods and services tax as well as provincial sales taxes). As local newspaper the Toronto Sun reported, “[In 2014], Canadian women spent about $519,976,963 on tampons, pads and menstrual cups, which put more than $36,398,387 into government coffers, according to Statistics Canada.” The province of Quebec quickly followed the federal government’s lead, announcing that it too would stop taxing menstrual products. Four other provinces already exempt feminine hygiene products from provincial sales taxes.
While you wait for U.S. states to do what’s right and axe the tax on women’s hygienic necessities, enjoy this video from two British comedians who took on the Tampon Tax, Taylor Swift-style.
Photo via Shutterstock