Tampons and pads are necessities. They are not a luxury nor are they non-essential items. When last did you not use a pad or tampon during your period? Women don’t get to choose whether they menstruate or not, and we certainly don’t do it for pleasure or as a leisurely activity. Can you imagine that?
So we are delighted that there have been moves to make tampons and pads freely available and to the remove tax on these essential items. But while these changes might be happening, they are not happening in South Africa.
In April, New York City passed a bill that eradicated tampon tax. In June the city supplied pads at public locations, as freely as free condoms or toilet paper are supplied. Connecticut and Illinois soon followed their lead, repealing tampon tax in August. A step in the right direction, the move had many people asking why tampon tax is still a practice at all.
Many states in the US, and countries such the UK, as well as South Africa, continue to put tax on these essential items. In the UK tampons are taxed at 5% VAT, classified as ‘non-essential luxury items’ by the European Union (EU). Clearly this is a worldwide problem. In May this year, the motion to remove the tax was defeated in UK’s parliament.
In South Africa, tampons and sanitary pads are classified as luxury/non-essential items and therefore charged 14% Value Added Tax (VAT). The National Treasury states a list of goods that are zero-taxed and exempt from tax such as bread, milk, exports, maize, brown bread and paraffin. However, female hygienic sanitation did not make the cut.
The move to provide free female hygienic products is long overdue. When one thinks about how freely available things such as toilet paper and condoms are. It is just as natural to menstruate (given that half of the world’s population is female), as it is to have sex. Many women have highlighted the paradox of this. Female sanitary company Veeda says it best:
— Veeda (@VeedaUsa) September 6, 2016
The issue of female hygienic products at home is more than one of sexism, it is compacted with classism and poverty. Did you know that in South Africa it is estimated up to 7 million girls miss around 60 days of school a year because of their menstrual cycle? ‘That’s a quarter of their schooling year, which is lost because they don’t attend school when they menstruate and that’s something we believe is unacceptable,’ spokesperson of Amnesty International at Wits, Raees Noorbhai said.
This year, Wits students protested for the university to provide free pads on campus. But they were not the first. This issue has been raised time and again to no avail. Amnesty International WITS explained in a statement: ‘Lack of access to sanitary pads denies scores of women their human dignity and exacerbates the dire circumstances of poverty in which an outrageous number of our people live. The current tax policy, which treats sanitary pads as a taxable ‘luxury’ good, is ignorant of the reality faced by poor and dispossessed women in this country.’
This is one example of how tampon and pad tax fundamentally hinder young women. Why has this issue not been addressed? Why do we have to run pad drives so that adolescents and adult women can have the dignity of bleeding privately and comfortably?
In 2011, writer Jen Thorpe estimated what the average woman spends on her monthly cycle in her lifetime, and it is shocking, especially when you consider women who live below the poverty line:'”In her lifetime, the average woman uses 11 000 tampons, or 22 sanitary products (pads or tampons per period). In South Africa with the average tampon costing about R1.50 each (yes, that means R33 a period, or R16 500 in her lifetime) and a pack of 10 sanitary pads costing R18 (which translates to about R36 a period, or R19 800 in her lifetime). This means that having a period is an expense that many cannot afford.’
As activist organization, Equal EducationEE senior researcher, Samuel Shapiro puts it: ‘These products are not a luxury item, they are an essential part of every women’s lives and every women’s dignity. Providing access to these products for all women and girls is simply non-negotiable.’
Images via Rex Features