Thursday, July 7

From taboo to activism: the feminist victory against the tampon tax in the UK

“I thought, ‘I’m going to start taking birth control pills so that my period will stop coming,’ because I couldn’t afford hygiene products,” says Eleanor Covell. “At the time, I thought it was a great idea, but then I would get weird cramps and my weight would fluctuate all the time.”

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Eleanor Covell lives in the UK. When she was younger, she suffered from what is known as menstrual poverty. But she never told anyone, because she felt “embarrassed” that she couldn’t buy tampons and pads.

“I left home at 16,” he remembers now, at 32 years old. “I couldn’t benefit from the social assistance system because I was at school. He worked at the fast food chain Subway and received about 30 pounds (35 euros) a week from the British Government’s Educational Maintenance Allowance Program, now discarded. With that he had to cover everything: bills, rent, food and travel, education and books. ”

Now she is in a managerial position at a charity and says the rule was simply not being discussed at the time. It was a subject steeped in shame and stigma. “If I found sanitary products somewhere, I kept them,” he says. “I took a pair from a friend’s house.”

Eleanor Covell argues that the issue has been demystified by leaps and bounds in recent years and notes that the decision to eliminate the so-called ‘pink rate’ (‘tampon tax’ in the UK) a early this year It would have been a great help at that time.

As of January 1, 2021, feminine hygiene products in the UK are no longer classified as “luxury, non-essential items” and are taxed at 5%. “It would have been so much more affordable for me,” says Eleanor Covell.

The end of a “macho” policy

“All the activism around the rule and the fact of simply using the word means that now the issue is more normalized. Organizations have put something on the political map that women have to do every month, “says Covell.

The activists, who have been campaigning to reform the ‘pink tax’ for years, say the change marks the end of a ‘macho’ fiscal policy that has been in place in the country since 1973. British Finance Minister Rishi Sunak, promised to eliminate the tax on tampons in the March 2020 budget, with VAT on medical devices now reduced to zero.

Laura Coryton, who started a campaign called ‘Stop Taxing Periods’ in May 2014 while studying at Goldsmiths University in London, says she launched her petition when rules were not on the political agenda and were even more “surrounded” by taboo.

“There is a great sense of relief at the abolition of the tax on tampons. The government has been saying for years that it would eliminate it, “says the 27-year-old, who lives in London.

“When I found out that this rate existed, I didn’t know anything about taxes, so I looked into it. I realized that other items were completely exempt from the tax because they were considered essential, such as private helicopter maintenance and alcohol-sweetened jellies, ”he says.

“However, feminine hygiene products were considered a luxury. This change implies much more than a drop in the prices of these products. While, of course, this is very important because poverty is increasing because of the crisis, it is also about recognizing that the issues we consider to be feminine affect the whole of society. We are ending a macho politics ”.

“The change goes beyond a price drop”

Laura Coryton considers that the change may seem “small”, but that it sends a “strong message” to society, recalling that feminine hygiene products were taxed with a 17.5% tax until 2001.

“The tax shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the needs of all those who menstruate,” he says. “It reflects a terrible education on the rule in the schools. Politicians, whether men or women, must understand that these articles are essential. Especially since the lack of access to them affects the education of girls. ”

The activist maintains that eliminating the pink tax helps to address the taboo around the rule, which she considers a determining factor of menstrual poverty, in addition to representing an “economic change in daily life” for those who have difficulties paying for these products.

“When I started the petition in 2014, no politician even said the word ‘rule,” he says. “Even in the emails they sent me they didn’t talk about it, they said ‘women’s hygiene’. It’s crazy how much progress has been made since then. The ‘pink tax’ was around for so long because they told us we couldn’t talk about the rule. ”Coryton notes that eliminating the tax has also impacted the price of reusable feminine hygiene products, which are often more expensive.

Scotland ahead

For Laura Coryton, it is surprising that England has not followed the example of Scotland which, after a long campaign, last November became the first country in the world to offer free menstrual hygiene products to everyone.

“It’s a shame we didn’t do it,” he reflects. “I think we will, because Scotland does everything first. It would be crazy not to. This system helps people who suffer from menstrual poverty, helps to end the stigma surrounding menstruation and to avoid health complications as a result of being forced to wear tissues and socks. ”

An investigation by the NGO Plan International reveals that three in 10 girls in the UK have had problems paying for or accessing period products during the health crisis caused by COVID-19, and more than half of them have had to turn to toilet paper instead of these products. One in five said their periods have been harder to cope with because they don’t have enough toilet paper.