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Water & Sanitation

There's a Fresh Controversy About How Tampon Tax Funding Was Handed Out

Another year, another tampon tax furore.

If you're not familiar with the "tampon tax," it all began in 2015 when it came to light that menstrual products were classed as “luxury items” in tax terms, while houseboat moorings and flapjacks were deemed essential. 

More than 300,000 people signed a petition to stop VAT being charged on sanitary products — enough signatures for the then-chancellor George Osborne to address to issue in his 2015 Autumn Statement. 

Take action: #ItsBloodyTime for World Leaders to Prioritise Menstrual Hygiene for Girls' Education

“We already charge the lowest 5% rate allowable under European law and we’re committed to getting the EU rules changed,” he said . “Until that happens, I’m going to use the £15 million a year raised from the tampon tax to fund women’s health and support charities.” 

Then, in 2017, it emerged that one of the recipients was an anti-abortion group. Life, one of the UK’s largest and oldest pro-life organisations, was awarded £250,000 — which sparked outrage among women’s rights campaigners.

Fast-forward to now, and how that £15 million funding has been distributed has caused fresh upset — after it came to light  that less than £3 million has been handed to specialist women’s organisations. 

Read more: This Woman's Menstrual Cup Mission Brought Her Face-to-Face With President Obama

Of the 10 charities that were announced as recipients of the funding for 2018, only two — Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid — are specialist women’s organisations.

The other organisations including UK Community Foundations ; mental health charity Mind ; Brook Young People ; Arhag Housing Association ; Hestia Housing and Support; and the RCJ & Islington Citizens Advice Bureaux, among others. 

The funding has gone to programmes within these organisations that are run with women in mind, for example, to address domestic abuse, to improve mental health support for women, and to address period poverty.

But critics have reportedly  suggested the government is sidelining women’s charities for political reasons. 

Read more: 4 Million Kenyan Schoolgirls Are Going to Receive Free Sanitary Pads

“They know we are the ones that will critique them and hold them to account,” Vivienne Hayes, the chief executive of the Women’s Resource Centre, a national umbrella group for the women’s sector, told the Guardian

“The general charities don’t always have that strong analysis of structural inequalities, so I think it’s not surprising that the women’s sector has been sidelined and the mainstream organisations that say ‘we work with women’ have been given the money,” she added. 

She also said that more general charities, even those with specific programmes to support women, couldn’t replace specialist providers. 

“We are the experts,” she said. “Even when the going gets tough, we’re still in there doing what we’re doing.” 

Read more: This Woman's Crafty Invention Is Keeping Menstruating Girls in School

Since 2015, the government has awarded £47 million from the tampon tax fund.

“The money generated from sanitary products is being invested in good causes that tackle the erosion issues that women of all ages face,” said Tracey Crouch, the minister for sport and civil society, when the recipients of the funding were announced in March.

“It will be used to support vulnerable women and girls and help build a Britain fit for the future,” she added.

At the end of 2017, the government also clarified that charities could use grants from the fund to carry out awareness raising activity, after the charity sector criticised an exclusion listed on the application form that said grant money couldn’t be used for campaigning and awareness raising. 

“The ban on awareness raising is odd,” wrote David Ainsworth, from the Civil Society charity news site , in December. “It sounds like the government doesn’t want women’s organisations to use its money to warn women how to avoid getting cancer, for example. Or to tell a woman where to find a refuge after her husband beats her up.” 

Read more: The Tampon Tax Is Still a Thing, and It's Funding an Anti-Abortion Group

“It doesn’t want women to be told anything, in fact, that might prevent a problem,” he added. 

A full list of programmes that have received funding for the year of 2018-9 can be found here

Global Citizen campaigns to achieve the UN’s Global Goals to end extreme poverty, which include action on achieving gender equality. You can join us by taking action here to support the #LevelTheLaw campaign, which calls on world leaders to eliminate laws that discriminate against women and girls, and the #ItsBloodyTime campaign, which calls on world leaders to take action so girls around the world can stop missing school because of their periods.