Tackling tampon tax and menstrual taboos

British women have united in recent weeks to protest against a particularly sexist piece of legislation; the high rate of tax imposed on tampons because they are deemed a “luxury” item. Yes, British politicians believe sanitary products are a luxury. While this elevated tax rate is a disappointing reflection on society’s attitude to women, it was as high as 17.5 per cent in Britain from the 1970’s up until the year 2000. It was then reduced by Gordon Brown, but remains an issue that has been lobbied by female activists for the past few years.

The possibility of reducing the tax was debated in the British parliament this year and was voted on by late October. The motion lost by a tight margin of 287 to 305 votes. This has not however stopped women all over Britain from protesting against the decision, with many tweeting their support through the hashtag #tamponsarenotaluxury. Last week, three women took the most dramatic stand seen yet and stood outside the House of Commons, forgoing sanitary products and showing visible blood on their deliberately white trousers. Their aim was to highlight that these products are an essential.

The move sparked both positive and negative reaction on social media, with some people claiming it was “gross.” Charlie Edge, one of the protesters, said that was exactly the point.

“Periods are gross,” she said. “They make you feel consistently uncomfortable for a week. And if you aren’t lucky enough to be 100% regular, they can surprise you at the worst of times and you end up looking like me, but not as part of a protest, in the middle of a restaurant or class or supermarket”.

The visual nature of the protest was effective in demonstrating that sanitary products are a necessary purchase and nothing akin to “a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense,” which is what Oxford dictionary defines as a luxury. For British women, the only part that rings true is that of the “great expense.”

While Ireland has a zero per cent rate of tax on these products, we are not free of objectionable legislation. Disappointed at the Government’s approach to repealing the 8th amendment, one woman recently chose to tweet the progress of her period to Enda Kenny, saying the Government “gets to decide what happens when I’m pregnant, so why shouldn’t it be involved during all the other stages too”?

The move sparked nationwide support, with hoards of others following suit and tweeting the Taoiseach. Though Enda Kenny hasn’t responded to the campaign as yet, it’s clear that once taboo topics are making their way onto the agenda, both here and across the pond.

Rebecca Lumley


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