Time to terminate tax on tampons
ON Q&A last week, Treasurer Joe Hockey was forced to address the issue of GST on women’s sanitary products.
Whether or not you consider this issue important, or feel it detracts from more pressing matters, it also points to something imperative in terms of women’s bodies, health and cultural attitudes.
Seeking to have the tax removed on tampons has been ongoing since it was introduced in 2000 when then prime minister, John Howard, defended it, stating it was not a women’s issue but one of tax consistency.
In fact, it is an issue for and about women as well as equitable tax arrangements. We might only pay, on average, an extra $10 plus a year for tampons, but it is still, to borrow the words of Subeta Vimalarajah, who’s heading a campaign to stop the tax, “bloody unfair”.
It is also a difficult issue to discuss openly. Even women find it hard to mention “that time of the month”, let alone campaign for it to be absolved of GST.
To make matters worse, sanitary products are regarded as a “luxury item”, in the same way we think of jewellery or a holiday. There seems to be a misconception that women’s sanitary items are non-essential. Conversely, condoms, lubricant, nicotine patches and sunscreen are GST exempt.
Women’s sanitary items earn the Government about $25 million each year, which may go some way to explaining the reluctance to talk about abolishing the GST. It isn’t driven by social discomfort as much as fiscal embarrassment. It is hard not to read the tax as a direct penalty upon women and their bodies, regardless of how small the penalty might be. These items are necessary purchases for a long time in a female’s life. They are hygiene and thus health products.
The irony is, throughout history, women have long been “taxed” (read: penalised) for a perfectly natural biological process.
Perceived as “unclean”, menstruating women were not allowed to be involved in religious festivals, attend church or temple or, in some cases, be touched. They were regarded as “impure”, “unclean” and as afflicted with God’s “curse”. In some societies, women had to leave their families for the duration of their cycle, returning only when it had finished.
Last Thursday was Menstrual Hygiene Day and the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural organisation, UNESCO, released some alarming statistics. According to estimates, one in 10 girls in Africa will miss school during their period and eventually drop out as a result. In India, 66 per cent of girls’ schools do not have a functioning toilet.
In our enlightened times, there’s still acute embarrassment, if not shame, linked to menstruation. When advertising sanitary products on TV or in magazines, blood is blue, or the sanitary items become objects of fun for men.
Rather than being open about it we engage in silence, waffle, or employ terrible euphemisms to avoid discussing it.
Taxed in more ways than money, women continue to pay for their biology. It’s time to end the discrimination. Period.