The average person who menstruates spends about $1,773 on period products in their lifetime. But a portion of that spending on menstrual products could be avoided if governments recognized sanitary pads and tampons as necessary items instead of classing them as luxury goods.
The tampon tax, which taxes menstrual products as non-essential items, places an additional burden on people who menstruate and discriminates against them by making items crucial for everyday life unaffordable for some.
Around the world, 800 million people are on their periods at any given moment and it’s estimated that 500 million people live without access to adequate menstrual hygiene. Many of them end up resorting to unsafe materials to manage their periods because their schools or workplaces don’t yet provide free menstrual products. Period advocates all over the world are fighting for the tax exemption of menstrual products to ensure that everyone can manage their periods with safety and dignity.
Here’s everything you need to know about how the tampon tax limits access to menstrual products and further perpetuates period poverty.
What is the tampon tax?
The tampon tax is a charge on menstrual products meaning they have a value-added tax or sales tax, whereas items such as other essential health purchases like prescriptions, some over-the-counter drugs, clothes in some regions, toilet paper, condoms, and groceries — and even some less essential items like golf club memberships and erectile dysfunction pills — are typically tax-exempt.
The tampon tax is also known as the “pink tax,” a term used to describe a form of gender-based discrimination named for marketing the color pink toward women.
Why does the tampon tax exist?
For many US states and countries, exempting menstrual products from being taxed results in reduced public revenue collection. Cutting tax on both diapers and tampons in California is estimated to eliminate about $55 million in revenue per year, for instance. In New York state, eliminating the tampon tax is estimated to account for a $14 million reduction in revenue annually. When states eliminate the tampon tax they end up having to increase tax rates on other items to make up for the loss.
How much does the tampon tax cost people who menstruate?
Globally, 12.8% of women and girls live in poverty and struggle to access the resources to manage their periods. The tampon tax makes it even harder for people who can barely afford their basic needs, and people who depend on a product are usually willing to spend more on it which can lead to price discrimination.
The average American woman will experience 450 periods and pay between $100 and $225 in tampon taxes over her lifetime. What’s more, the majority of people who menstruate are women, who are already at a financial disadvantage because they are impacted by the gender pay gap and earn less than men across all regions by an average of 23%.
Where is the tampon tax active?
The tampon tax remains in effect in wealthy and poor countries alike.
Across the European Union, most countries are not allowed to create zero-rated value-added taxes on period products and have a 5% minimum tampon tax. The tampon tax is as high as 20% in 10 member countries but it will be eliminated across the member states in 2022. However, some countries in the EU have managed to reduce or eliminate the tampon tax sooner.
Ireland is the only EU country that did not charge the tampon tax upon joining the EU because it did not have one before. Germany also reclassified menstrual products as necessary items and reduced the tampon tax from 19% to 7% in 2019. After years of activists campaigning and protesting against the discriminatory fee on menstrual products, menstrual products are now tax-exempt in the UK.
Other countries that have made menstrual products tax-free include Kenya, Australia, Canada, India, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Tanzania, Lebanon, Malaysia, Colombia, South Africa, Namibia, and Rwanda.
How can we fight to eliminate the tax on menstrual products worldwide?
Menstrual equity advocates warn that ending period poverty will not be achieved by providing affordable menstrual hygiene products alone and also requires education, adequate water and sanitation facilities, and addressing harmful gender norms. However, if lawmakers can acknowledge that menstrual products are necessary items, we are one step closer to ensuring that it is not the lack of resources to manage menstruation that keeps people from reaching their full potential, and in poverty.
Organizations around the world are fighting to make menstrual products more affordable. Activist Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, founder of the organization Period Equity launched the Tax Free. Period campaign to urge US states to eliminate the tampon tax before April 15, Tax Day, when individual income tax returns are due to the federal government. The campaign created an interactive map to educate users on the status of the tampon tax in their state.
Meanwhile, the organization Period Tax created a global tampon tax map and database to make it easier to find campaigns to support ending the tax in countries around the world.
Ideally, all menstrual products would be free to everyone who needs them, and while many countries are introducing laws to mandate free products in public spaces, finding out how to end the tampon tax in your local area is one way to show your leaders that period poverty is an issue that matters to you.