The Canadian government is officially scrapping the country’s so-called “tampon tax,” which has been deeply controversial over the past two decades. Starting July 1, feminine hygiene products — including tampons, pads, and menstrual cups — will no longer be subject to Canada’s five percent “Goods and Services” tax (GST).
Conservative party leaders had previously promised to address the issue in upcoming budget negotiations, but this week’s official announcement comes earlier than expected. Progressive politicians in the country are celebrating the news.
“Finally, the government has listened to reason and put an end to this injustice. That is a victory for all women,” New Democratic Party (NDP) politician Irene Mathyssen, who introduced legislation to make the change, said in a statement. “The women who made this an issue, their voices have finally been heard.”
Nearly 75,000 people in Canada signed onto a petition demanding the repeal of the tampon tax. The petition’s author, Jill Piebiak, pointed out that it’s offensive for the Canadian government to designate menstrual hygiene products as a “nonessential item” or a “luxury good” — especially because plenty of other products, like cake decorations and contact lenses, are already exempt from the GST.
“We all know that buying tampons, pads, moon/diva cups, or panty liners is not optional. These products are an essential part of a normal, public life for people with periods,” Piebiak wrote, concluding that “our government makes money off of our bodies.”
The policy change in Canada may lend some momentum to similar campaigns in other countries, which have been picking up steam over the past several months.
Tens of thousands of people in Australia and the United Kingdom have signed onto similar online petitions lobbying their government officials to exempt pads and tampons from the GST. Earlier this week, after activists confronted Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey with a giant tampon on TV, he agreed that sanitary products are “essential” and said he may ask state and territory governments to remove the tax.
There’s also some movement here in the United States, as lawmakers in New York are currently working on repealing their state’s sales tax on feminine hygiene products. The elected officials spearheading that initiative are echoing the rhetoric of the activists abroad, pointing out that sanitary pads and tampons are not exactly optional for women who need to manage their monthly periods.
Proponents of making feminine hygiene products more affordable point out that this is a basic human rights issue. The gaps in access to these products among economically disadvantaged women are well-documented. Low-income women in the U.S. are sometimes forced to resort to desperate measures, like using old rags, because government assistance programs like SNAP don’t offer financial assistance to help them purchase tampons or pads.
Canada’s move coincides with a global effort to destigmatize the issues surrounding menstruation. This week marked the second annual Menstrual Hygiene Day, which aims to encourage women to speak up about their periods and advocate for their right to proper sanitation. Around the world, the lack of access to feminine hygiene products prevents girls in developing countries from pursuing their education because they’re forced to miss class each month when they’re on their period.