After nearly 100,000 people signed a petition demanding to “remove the unfair tampon tax,” some Australian officials are considering a policy change to exempt sanitary products from the country’s 10 percent “Goods and Services” tax (GST).
In a statement released on Tuesday, Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey said that he may ask state and territory governments to remove the “tampon tax,” after the Treasury calculates exactly how much it will cost to lift the GST on women’s sanitary pads and tampons. Other health-related products — like condoms, sunscreen, and nicotine patches — are already exempt from the 10 percent tax.
Hockey’s concession came after a college student named Subeta Vimalarajah, who started the online petition on the subject, presented him with the hundreds of thousands of signatures that have been gathered so far.
Australia’s entire tax system is currently up for review, and Vimalarajah is asking policymakers to take the opportunity to change the way sanitary products are classified. In her petition, Vimalarajah makes the case that “a period is not a luxury or societal burden, it is an aspect of reproductive health” and argues that half of the Australian population should not be required to pay a 10 percent tax on the products they need to manage their monthly periods.
This week, armed with a giant tampon, Vimalarajah appeared on a television panel to confront Hockey about the issue. She asked the treasurer whether he believed that tampons are an essential health product, and pressed him about whether they should be exempt from the GST tax.
CREDIT: Screenshot via ABC.NET.AU
“Do I think sanitary products are essential? I think so, I think so,” Hockey replied.
Other elected officials haven’t been so quick to embrace reform in this area. Immediately after Hockey’s public comments on the tampon tax, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott clarified that exempting sanitary products from the GST is “certainly not something that this Government has a plan to do.” Abbott said he understands why some people are lobbying to repeal the “tampon tax,” but emphasized that the issue should be decided on the state level.
The debate over taxing sanitary products is hardly limited to Australia. Canadian women, for instance, have been fighting for decades to remove their country’s sales tax on feminine hygiene products, saying it’s offensive to classify them as a luxury good. Several U.S. states — including California, Wisconsin, and New York — also level a sales tax on tampons and pads. Earlier this month, a lawmaker in New York indicated that he’s planning to introduce a measure to repeal the tax in his state, pointing out that “this is a quality-of-life issue…. Women have to use feminine hygiene products.”
Managing a monthly period can be especially difficult for economically disadvantaged women who are already struggling to get by. Here in the U.S., government assistance programs like SNAP don’t cover sanitary products, which leaves some low-income women forced to resort to desperate measures — like using old rags — when they get their period. Many homeless women don’t have any access to tampons at all because sanitary products typically aren’t distributed in shelters.
However, the issue remains deeply controversial. Last year, when feminist writer Jessica Valenti penned a column in the Guardian arguing that tampons should be subsidized by the government, she was subject to intense backlash from people who told her to stop whining about paying for feminine products. “Just get a real job and you’ll be able to afford tampons,” one critic responded. “Here’s a thought: get married. Then your husband can pay for it. As long as your putting out….” another told her.
Casting tampons as an essential good is not a fringe view. The United Nations considers the ability to exercise proper personal hygiene, including menstrual hygiene, to be a basic human right. Last year, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations marked the first-ever global “Menstrual Hygiene Day” to emphasize the link between accessible sanitary products and women’s economic success.
“The biggest factor that annoys me is the inconsistency,” Vimalarajah wrote in an op-ed published on Tuesday explaining why she’s been fighting so hard to repeal the tampon tax. “It’s one thing to make everything taxable, but it’s different when the government has identified ‘important’ health goods as exempt, but refuses to acknowledge sanitary products as in this category.”