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Tampons: A ‘Luxury’ We’re Still Bleeding For

Tampons. A word and item that still seems taboo in today’s society and conversation. We’ve seen politicians get awkward saying the word (I’m looking at you, Joe Hockey) and even when I use to work as a supermarket cashier, males would insist these little cotton superheroes weren’t for their own personal use but for their girlfriend. Uh, I figured you weren’t buying them to stop nosebleeds or to use as Christmas ornaments.

Why are people so afraid of a little absorbent cotton? They haven’t been used whilst sitting on that supermarket shelf; they’re actually quite hygienic. Innocently they sit in a box with fun colours marketing executives thought would be a spell bounding way to empower women, because nothing screams fighting for the sisterhood as much as a cardboard box plagued with flowers and butterflies all over it.

These little cotton wonders, in addition to pads and other feminine hygiene products, aid the management of an involuntary biological process that impacts half the world’s population, menstrual periods. But, these absorbent sensations have become a contentious issue worldwide, and all for the same reason: tax.

Tax gets a bad wrap. In Australia, the Howard Government introduced the Goods and Services Tax (GST) back in 2000 as a true tax reform.  It replaced multitudinous and inefficient State taxes that raised little revenue and produced deadweight loss. The 10% duty applies to most items and services sold or consumed in Australia, however there are some exemptions for items deemed ‘necessary’.

Items such as condoms, lubricants, nicotine patches, incontinence pads and sunscreen are all exempt from GST. Why? Because they are considered to be essentials and aim to prevent illness.

Well, incontinence pads don’t actually prevent urination or excretion do they? No, they don’t prevent it. They are designed to help manage involuntary bladder or bowel control problems.

Sound familiar? Menstrual pads help manage an involuntary bodily secretion and are also made from good ol’ absorbent cotton. Both products increase hygiene, as well as security, and confidence. No one wants to endure the embarrassment caused from leaking biological fluids or have people whispering, wondering what that oddly coloured wet patch is on their clothing or the bus seat.

So why are tampons taxed but incontinence pads not when both are fundamentally similar, if not almost identical? Is this not a direct display of discrimination against an automatic bodily function that only us women must go through? There is no taxed item in Australia exclusively used by men.

Some feminists argue condoms are only for males, however I dissent.  Condoms directly benefit both males and females as both genders decrease their risk in contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and women reduce risk of pregnancy.

So, here’s to the patriarchal society for charging me on a bodily function I had no say in and on the unquestionably essential product that has no equally effective substitute.

Sanitary products have been classified as a luxury by our government and many worldwide. What are we as women meant to use instead? Old newspaper? Yarn? Cleaning blood and ensuring it doesn’t stain is no easy task (pro tip: Use cold water to remove blood stains; warm water will set the stain in). Sanitary products in the present age are the most effective and widely accepted item in managing monthly menstrual flow. We moved away from using rags and washing them in the river for a reason.

I always considered luxuries to be holidays to Europe, basking in the sun while sipping on poolside cocktails, or buying expensive wine – a sure step up from Fruity Lexia.  

I didn’t think a cardboard box packed with 16 cotton tubes epitomizes opulence and grandeur.

Additionally, nicotine patches are also exempt from the 10% levy. Why are they not considered a luxury? Humans are not born with the innate need to smoke tobacco. During development there is no genetic change or increase in hormones within the brain that onsets the requirement of smoking. However, if you are born with a vagina, Mother Nature is going to be sure those hormones kick in and gift you with a red spot on your underwear.

Sure, it was nice when my traditional Greek grandmother gave me $10 for ‘becoming a real woman’ but unfortunately, that isn’t going to cover the blatant lifetime cost of discriminating against my gender.

Let it be known the crux of the issue isn’t primarily an economic one but about principle.  I don’t mind paying tax on different products. Tax is mostly beneficial to society as it goes towards funding health systems, emergency services, our university degrees, and for (now former speaker) Bronwyn Bishop to travel from Melbourne to Geelong via helicopter at the cost of $5227, a journey that is just over an hour’s drive. Power to the sisterhood, Bronwyn.

A common rebuttal to the tampon tax debate is that there are also other items deemed necessary that we still pay GST on such as gas, electricity and baby nappies. Although, last time I checked, none of those items are exclusively used by one gender only.  

Recently, countries such as Canada and France have removed the tax on sanitary products after intense backlash from the public. The Australian government has also received similar criticism. However, in July this year, the federal Senate voted down the proposal to remove the gender-biased GST.

The Greens supported the removal of tax upon sanitary products and proposed applying a GST to imported items below the cost of $1000. Former Greens senator, Larissa Waters showcased how the new proposal would not only offset the loss of tax revenue sanitary products currently bring in, but an extra $300 million over the next three years would be raised too. These monetary figures come from the Parliamentary Budget Office that recently modelled the proposal. As Waters stated fiercely, “Revenue loss is no longer a credible excuse for refusing to axe the sexist tampon tax”.  So, what is holding back politicians now from abolishing the sexist levy?  

Labor Senator Katy Gallagher has stated that the party supports the change, however there isn’t a need to rush into anything. Uh, Katy, GST was introduced in 2000 and the debate has been ongoing since. It’s been seventeen years. I’m not sure we have the same understanding for the word ‘rush’.

Treating periods and the tax upon their products as a non-issue seems to have become routine for the right-wing, male led government of Australia. Shouldn’t the reproductive health and hygiene of 12 million Australian women be important? We shouldn’t be penalised for having a period that we had no choice in wanting or not. Sanitary products are not a ‘luxury’ or a ‘want’ but a need.  Until the government realises the inequality they are placing upon women and girls as young as 10 years old, we need to keep fighting until action is made.

Athina Kakkos

The author Athina Kakkos

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