If Benjamin Franklin were still around today, we think he’d be proud to take a stand for the #TamponsForAll campaign being spearheaded by Cosmopolitan magazine and Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, a fierce advocate on gender issues. The #notaxontampons aspect of the initiative has gained over 30,000 supporters who have signed a petition that asks U.S. state legislators to stop taxing periods.
In November 1789, Franklin wrote the following in a letter to his friend and colleague French scientist Jean Baptiste Leroy inquiring about Leroy’s health and updating him on the new state of affairs in the U.S., the highlight of which being the establishment of the Constitution –
One interpretation of this famously used witty remark that ironically was written five months before Franklin’s own death, is how despite the freedoms granted to at the time by the newly established Constitution, the government will still find a way to keep its people fettered via taxes.
Yes, taxes are a necessary evil. Governments need money to run countries smoothly and ideally protect the interests of its people, but have you ever stopped to think what, why and how things, like tampons, are taxed?
To help answer this question, let’s consider another maxim Benjamin Franklin is often quoted for, even though apparently it wasn’t originally coined by him –
When it comes to being a woman, this idiom rings especially true, since apparently as pointed in a story by the Nation, women “pay more for the same products and services while making less money.”
Have no fear ladies! There is some light at the end of your black hole of a wallet. After decades of backlash, our neighbors in Canada set an inspirational example when earlier this year, Canada’s government finally ruled that feminine hygiene products will no longer be subject to Canada’s five percent “Goods and Services” tax (GST).
Quite possibly the most ironic scenario of all the countries dealing with tampon tax petitioners is a motion that wasn’t passed in the UK last week to abolish a 5% Value Added Tax (VAT) on tampons. In case you haven’t heard of VAT, it’s an especially inconvenient consumption tax that’s present in many industrialized nations (not the U.S.) that rake in heaps of money for the British government each year. The rates of VAT are similar to what we call sales tax in the U.S., however, they run under different categories depending on where the item is made or how necessary the government deems it to be, which is where the conflict around the UK’s tampon tax is centralized.
Tampons in the UK currently have a reduced rate VAT of 5% meaning the government rakes in over 15 million pounds of tampon tax revenue each year. Fifteen million pounds has become a significant number because the UK’s Chancellor George Osbourne has committed to investing that much of the tax revenue to charities geared towards women, instead of eliminating the tax on tampons all together. On the surface that may sound all fine, dandy and charitable but as reporter and advocate Jennifer Weiss-Wolf so cleverly indicates in a Ms. Magazine article last week, she sees this 15 million pounds of revenue that would supposedly be invested in women’s charities as “blood money: a tax paid solely by women, footing the bill for the aftermath of violence perpetrated almost entirely by men.” For advocacy groups like Wonder Women, this is seen as a philanthropic diversion from a globally sexually discriminatory act.
In the U.S., we have our own struggle with taxes on feminine care products. In an article from June of this year, Susie Popick wrote an article for Time and stated: “45 states with sales taxes typically allow exemptions for ‘necessities’ like groceries—and, well, menstrual products are a necessity for about half the U.S. population… Only five states with sales tax—Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Jersey—have explicitly eliminated sales tax on tampons and pads, the report found.” So it seems we’re doing better than the UK in terms of tampon tax policy, but what about the other states? What is the hold up?
While some news outlets insist that the tampon tax argument is a waste of time, it is a dialogue that opens up a considerable amount of reflection around the way policy and how the consumer market cheats women out of hard earned money. Here is an article in Forbes that talks about a perceived “Woman Tax:” The ‘Woman Tax': How Gendered Pricing Costs Women Almost $1,400 A Year
There are areas in which thinkers like Jennifer Weiss-Wolf offer an alternative way of thinking about the implication of tampon tax for low income families. In her article, she mentions a more inclusive policy possibility: “In the U.S., sound menstrual policy would mandate the inclusion of feminine-hygiene products in Flexible Spending Account allowances (which would require amending the IRS tax code) and as part of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.” She also includes information about schools in New York that are trying out free tampon programs.
Although periods may not be certain for all in the same way death and taxes are, we’ll make certain to contribute our voice to the #notaxontampons issue and hope you will too by signing the petition here. As we saw recently in our support of another related menstrual care victory, the possibilities are endless when #FierceWomen come together to push for more equitable and inclusive policies around women’s health and the #tampontruth, yet another similar and ongoing debate involving the U.S. government’s interest in #healthymenstruation.