As American activists embark on a journey to end the so-called “tampon tax,” they’ll want to look to activists in countries that have successfully lifted similar taxes in recent times. Canada happens to be one of those nations.
According to canadianmentruators.ca, Canadians collectively spent $519,976,963 on menstrual products in 2014 (before tax). With a 5 percent federal tax on all of these products, that means the government collected more than $36 million in tax on goods that are essential for anyone who menstruates. Food and other essentials aren’t subject to that federal tax, but other, more questionable items remain tax-free—wedding cakes and cocktail cherries, for example.
Cakes and cherries aren’t exactly as important as pads and tampons, and thanks to the work of lawmakers and activists, menstrual products joined the Canadian federal government’s list of tax-exempt items in 2015.
It all started two years prior, when Canadian Member of Parliament Irene Mathyssen introduced Bill C-282 in the House of Commons. This bill proposed an amendment to the Excise Tax Act on feminine hygiene products, and sat fairly unnoticed by media for months. That was until a group of people, who later became the activists behind the No Tax on Tampons campaign, took up the issue.
Before No Tax on Tampons went public with its initiative, the activists involved did two months of preparation: speaking with politicians and advisors; meeting with tax lawyers; contacting supporters; researching social media strategies and coming up with a name and solid platform. When their petition urging the House of Commons to pass Mathyssen’s bill went live on Change.org in January 2015, it didn’t take long for people across the country to clue in to what was happening.
By July 1, 2015, the federal tax on menstrual products had been lifted, making pads, tampons, menstrual cups and other menstrual products more accessible (though some provinces continue to tax these items).
Jill Piebiak, spokesperson for No Tax on Tampons, says media coverage played a huge role in the success of her organization’s campaign.
“Media coverage about what we were doing did way more for us than any of our own social media,” she says.
Initially, No Tax on Tampons reached out to media contacts they had: the list was small. But, once the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation picked up the story just two weeks after the petition launched, things took off.
“Press coverage grew because it was moving around the internet a lot. More press meant more signatures,” Piebiak says.
Fortunately for Canada, the fight was against a federal tax. The United States does not have federal taxes on menstrual-hygiene products, so these taxes will have to be fought and lifted state-by-state. The good news is 10 states already consider menstrual products essential items, making them tax-free.
“Removal of the tampon tax in Canada in July 2015 was a long overdue measure that acknowledges menstrual products are a necessity, and that the tax was unfairly burdening menstruators,” says Suzanne Siemens, cofounder of Canadian cloth pad company Lunapads. Cloth pads were part of the list of menstrual products from sales which tax was removed.
“Recognizing the importance of menstrual equity and its financial consequences is an important part in advancing the movement toward equal rights and empowerment of girls and women around the world,” Siemens adds.
It took No Tax on Tampons less than six months, from the time of their campaign launch to the date the tax was officially removed, to be successful. If that isn’t inspiring for the activists working to make menstrual products more accessible for Americans, what is?
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Lindsay Attaway licensed under Creative Commons 2.0