Hey health minister, stop financially punishing me for having a vagina. Instead, you should be paying for my pads.
– BY AMY AYLMER –
Blood. Every month there’s blood. We are women, so we bleed. It’s probably the most natural thing on earth, and yet it’s surrounded by the most stigma. I’ve heard some good comments from men, the first when I was about 11 years old. ‘I don’t trust anything that bleeds for seven days and doesn’t die!’, ‘Can’t you just turn it off?’ and even worse from other women: ‘Shh, you did not just say that word out loud!’
‘They aren’t a luxury, so why are they even taxed?’
Years of repression by the patriarchy – but we all know this girls, we know this all too well. But what I still don’t understand is why on earth we should pay such huge amounts of money and tax for hygiene products? They aren’t a luxury, so why are they even taxed? The alternative is free bleeding I suppose. I mean that’s free… but no thanks, I already have enough laundry to do.
I love my period. Sure, I have stage 4 endometriosis and it’s akin to being hit by a lorry, but nonetheless, I’m proud of it – and maybe that’s exactly what the powers to be don’t want. Enter Team Free Sanitary Pads and Nokuzola Ndwandwe. I came across a post one day on Facebook while curled up in my bed, bleeding. As I do every month, because I’m a woman. I shouldn’t have to put aside money so I can do this hygienically.
‘Over 50% of women in Ireland are struggling to afford sanitary products’
Team Free Sanitary Pads is a movement founded by the Johannesburg-based Nokuzola Ndwandwe to realise the UN’s Sustainable Development goals 5 & 6. These goals are, respectively, gender equality and women’s empowerment, as well as water access and sanitation. We are working for a menstrual health hygiene Bill and Act, as well as the scrap of tampon tax until free and accessible menstrual hygiene management for girls and women is realised. 1 in 10 women in the UK can’t afford menstrual hygiene products, and over 50% of women in Ireland are struggling to afford these products. How has this happened? Why is it still happening? The answer lies strictly in punishment and taboo.
Where exactly does this tampon tax even come from? And when exactly did this stigma become so internalised within human beings, that we began financially punishing women for their periods? Women bleed, and our hygiene products, whichever we choose to use, are critical for our menstrual health management. The tampon tax originated in 1973 and since then has seen rates of 10%, 15% and 8%. Currently, in 2020, it stands at 5%. Children’s car seats are taxed at 5%, luxury item, no? Chocolate biscuits are taxed, luxury item, no? But maternity pads, menstrual pads and tampons? I don’t think so. Check out this tax calculator if you’d like to know how much tax you have been paying, just because you have a vagina.
‘It’s down to us girls to break this cycle of financial punishment’
We have been told that the overall tax paid, worth around £15 million, goes towards charities for women’s health and hygiene products. I’m not a politician, but I’d love to see proof of this, really, any shred of evidence will do. It’s down to us girls, it’s our responsibility for future generations to break this cycle of financial punishment, of taboo, of hushing and secrecy and pads and tampons hidden in pockets on the way to the bathroom. It’s on our shoulders to change this.
So far this year Team Free Sanitary Pads NI has raised just over £80 for period packs which are distributed to homeless charities. I have been homeless myself. I’ll never forget the shame, anger and deep sadness of having to rob napkins from restaurants and steal single pads and tampons from packs in shops because I simply did not have the money for these products. I had to choose between £4 for food or £4 for pads. It’s not just me. Each year, millions of girls around the world face period poverty, simply because they were born as women. There are no more excuses, there are no more ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ or ‘calm downs’ left to silence us. It’s the beginning of a new decade, it’s the beginning of the end of period poverty, it’s the beginning of smashing shame.
Why are we still paying for pads?
About the author:
Amy Aylmer is a psychology student, poverty survivor and rape survivor who believes that women’s mental health and sexual reproductive health are inextricably linked. Her passion for women’s health took hold when she lived in Cambodia and worked as a peer counsellor. Amy currently lives in Northern Ireland as the Northern Irish ambassador for Team Free Sanitary Pads. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
#EndTamponTax on both sides of the Pond
Topic of the year: period poverty
Why I love getting my period, by Sarah Sahagian
Volunteering to fight period poverty in the UK, by Kelly Grehan and Sarah Crook
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