Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
Since 2000, everyone in the European Union and thus also the United Kingdom who is unfortunate enough to have to endure a menstrual cycle has paid a 5% VAT charge on all their period products due to the dreaded Tampon Tax. Sanitary products have been subject to tax since the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973. However, alongside the UK’s split from the EU at the start of 2021, this ridiculous charge has finally been lifted.
Until the 1st of January, tampons, sanitary pads and other feminine hygiene products were considered ‘luxury items’ by law, thus qualifying them to be taxed as if women were investing in some kind of sumptuous self-care ritual by preventing ourselves from bleeding everywhere once a month. To be honest, the whole idea makes my blood boil (no pun intended).
5% is a reduced VAT rate from the standard 20% which is applied to most ‘luxury goods’, formerly placing sanitary products in the same category as domestic fuel and children’s car seats, but they were still considered to be less necessary for everyday life than most food, children’s clothing and books.
For some inexplicable reason, sanitary products were previously not classified as ‘essential items’ in the eye of the law, whilst Jaffa Cakes, lottery tickets and caravans evidently are as they incur no VAT to purchase. Actually, it’s not that inexplicable. In 2000, when the EU ruled that feminine products must be subject to a mandatory VAT charge, only 30% of MEPs were women. Only a man could judge that pads and tampons are ‘luxuries’. The legislation is a prime indicator of the horrifying fact that we are living in a man’s world, forced to abide by men’s capitalist standards with no respect for the female body.
The death of the UK’s Tampon Tax is the newest step in the government’s End Period Poverty plan which already includes the introduction of free sanitary products in schools, colleges and hospitals. Whilst it is awesome to have increasing accessibility to such essential items, especially for those who may have limited funds, there is a whole other dimension to Period Poverty which is yet to be addressed – stigma.
Boys and men still know alarmingly little about the science of periods and the real difficulties they cause women on a regular basis, from the pain to the hormones. Women are taught to be silent about their periods to make men comfortable, but why should we? Without them there would literally be no human race. The menstrual cycle is one of the most important physiological processes that the human body undergoes, but we’re taught to act like it’s not happening in case it grosses men out or makes them blush.
Jokes about women being moody, angry or unreasonable while on their periods remain prevalent in the media, and thus are transferred to toxic, laddish environments. It’s a stereotype which is unfortunately true for many of us who have to go through a torturous hormone rollercoaster during our cycle. It’s an experience that men will never understand, and which most seem unwilling to sympathise with or even acknowledge as anything more than another example of women being drama queens. They’d think again if they had to put up with the feeling of being kicked in the stomach by a horse every month.
I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Brexit, but it has to be admitted that the abolition of this absurd tax is a definite upside of our split from the EU, even if it does turn out to be one of the only positives. But the next step is perhaps even more essential – the destigmatisation and normalisation of periods in society, with the goal being better understanding by men and less shame for women and girls. Periods are both miraculous and horrible, and both of these qualities need to be recognised, not silenced.