How Australia’s Menstrual Avengers Won Their War on the Tampon Tax

Australian Prime Minister John Howard and his cabinet ministers arrived at the town of Nowra on the country’s southeastern coast one day in 2000, expecting a tranquil meeting with some constituents. Instead, they got pelted with tampons by a group of women dressed in superhero attire, complete with red capes and faux-bloodied panties over their tights.

The Menstrual Avengers were protesting the Goods and Services Tax (GST) that came into effect that year, under which a “luxury” consumption tax of 10 percent was applied to sanitary products—classified as “nonessential items.” In June 2018, following 18 years of feminist activism, Australia’s Senate passed the Axe the Tampon Tax Bill, which was introduced by Sen. Janet Rice of the Green Party. And this past October, the governments of the states and territories announced they would implement it.

During the Senate debate on the bill, Rice noted that the tax on menstrual products “disproportionately affects low-income women… The fact that they’re charged more for an essential sanitary product because of the GST is unacceptable.”

The long fight to “axe the tampon tax” had various incarnations over the years—from stunts like The Menstrual Avengers protest, to petitions that garnered thousands of signatures, to confronting politicians on national television. The most recent round of campaigning was led by Share the Dignity, a charity that provides menstrual products to homeless women. Australian women’s magazines, including The Australian Women’s Weekly, Woman’s Day and Cosmopolitan, also came on board. Young Women Speak Out campaigned alongside 19 other youth organizations in support of Share the Dignity’s bid to end the tax. Together, they sought to put those most vulnerable to the tampon tax at the center of their lobbying.

“To some, the tax exemption seems like a minimal saving, but those people aren’t making the choice between buying food or tampons,” Amy Blain, cofounder of Young Women Speak Out, told Ms. Then, referring to years of demonstrations where women protesters dressed as tampons to draw attention to the issue, she added, “I was happily one of the last giant tampons.”

Australian feminists hope that this is only the beginning of a genderbased reform of laws and national budgeting priorities. Gender equity advocate Bobbie Trower says the removal of the tampon tax is “nowhere near enough.”

“Menstrual products should be free for everyone who menstruates,” Trower told Ms. “There’s also the environment to consider. For menstrual products there are many environmentally sustainable options and they need to be normalized in the culture.”

Blain also wants to keep an eye on the bigger picture. Priorities for young feminists in Australia include “promoting respectful relationships, challenging gender stereotypes and demanding action on climate change,” she says.

Here’s hoping the next big change for Aussie women won’t take another 18 years.

This review appears in the Spring 2019 issue of MsBecome a member today to read the rest of the issue!


Ann Deslandes is an Australian freelance journalist based in Mexico City. She covers stories about politics, culture, social movements, gender and sexuality for TRTWorld, PRI's Global Security, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Foreign Policy and other publications.