On an average day, millions of people menstruate, with more than 300 million women and other menstruators, which includes transgender men or people who identify as nonbinary. According to a report by the World Bank, an estimated 500 million lack access to menstrual products and adequate facilities for menstrual health largely due to a lack of awareness, education, and/or cultural influences.
Women and adolescent girls are shamed, made fun of and even seen as “impure,” “dirty” or “unclean” when they are menstruating, a biological process which is essential to human reproduction. An average person uses over 11,000 sanitary products, which is over the course of 3,500 menstrual days, which last between three to seven days and add up to nearly 10 years of a person’s lifetime.
In a world where an estimated 500 million people struggle to procure menstrual products and have access to adequate facilities for menstrual health, several countries continue to impose what is known as the “tampon tax.” Here is what you need to know about the two issues affecting menstruators across the world:
What is World Menstrual Hygiene Day?
Considering the importance of menstrual health and hygiene, the world began observing Menstrual Hygiene Day, on the 28th day of the 5th month of the year, annually since 2014.
The reason behind this is that menstrual cycles last for an average of 28 days and people menstruate an average of five days each month. This year’s theme is “Making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030.”
UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Executive Director Natalia Kanem said, “A girl’s first period should be a happy fact of life, a sign of coming of age with dignity. She should have access to everything necessary to understand and care for her body and attend school without stigma or shame.”
What isMenstrual Hygiene Management?
The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF defineMenstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) as “Women and adolescent girls using a clean menstrual management material to absorb or collect menstrual blood, that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary, using soap and water for washing the body as required and having access to safe and convenient facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials.”
In addition to this, menstruates also have the knowledge of basic facts linked to the menstrual cycle and how to manage it with dignity and without embarrassment or stigma, which is also seen as an important part of MHM.
Poor menstrual health and hygiene are seen as a hindrance to fundamental rights like working on going to school for women, girls and people who menstruate. This is considering the patterns of exclusion and shame arising from insufficient resources to manage menstruation, according to UNFPA. Furthermore, gender inequality, extreme poverty, humanitarian crises and harmful traditions can amplify deprivation and stigma, related to menstruation.
What is ‘period poverty’?
Period poverty refers to the struggle of many menstruates who cannot afford menstrual products as well as the increased economic vulnerability they face due to the financial burden posed by menstrual supplies. However, these costs are not limited to pads or tampons but also pain medication and underwear.
Period poverty also includes the lack of or absence of knowledge pertaining to menstrual hygiene education and sanitary facilities (washrooms/bathrooms). However, when we address period poverty, it is not just an economic issue but also a social and political one and this is where the concept of “tampon tax” comes in.
‘Tampon tax’: What is it and who is imposing it?
In a world where hundreds of millions of people are affected by “period poverty,” global calls for the end of the so-called tampon tax have increased. Tampon tax refers to the consumption levies such as value-added tax (VAT) which most countries charge on items such as sanitary pads, tampons, panty liners and menstrual cups.
While menstrual products in some countries are considered non-essential items for VAT purposes, items like toilet paper, condoms and over-the-counter medicines are tax-free or at least carry a lower levy. Notably, Kenya became the first country to scrap VAT on sanitary pads and tampons in 2004 and over a dozen other countries have followed suit, as per the data by Reuters.
Meanwhile, some 10 countries have moved to place sanitary products as tax-exempt goods or exempted the tax on imported raw materials used to make them. Last year, the European Union revised a directive which allowed its 27 member nations to reduce VAT on sanitary products by five per cent, which means they can lower taxes on some goods.
One of the reasons why tampon tax continues to be levied in many countries is because VAT is an important source of revenue for governments and is a large part of some countries' GDP. Furthermore, the VAT rates vary depending on the country, considering governments often have different definitions of what is considered an essential good that is exempted from the levy.
Notably, Scotland,last year became the first nation to make sanitary pads and tampons free at designated public places, like youth centres and pharmacies.
Where does India stand in all of this?
The experience of menstruators across India differs but the stigma around the biological process remains prevalent in many parts of the country. Earlier this month, a 12-year-old girl was allegedly tortured and killed by her 30-year-old brother in the Thane district after he mistook the bloodstains on her clothes for her involvement in a sexual relationship.
As per media reports, the girl was unable to explain the reason behind the bloodstains on her clothes due to her lack of knowledge about menstruation. She was reportedly subjected to torture as the accused allegedly inflicted severe burns on various parts of the victim’s body and after days of being kicked and punched, she was taken to the hospital, where she succumbed to her injuries.
Additionally, nearly 33 crore menstruating women are affected by different levels of “period poverty,” either in terms of access to menstrual products, information, or infrastructure for hygiene. A report by NGO Dasra and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) shows that 23 million girls are forced to drop out of school every year due to a lack of proper MHM facilities.
A 2018 study conducted by UNICEF shows 70 per cent of Indian mothers believed menstruation is “dirty.” This translates to practices like girls not being allowed to touch members of the family, or enter the kitchen, and sometimes even being made to eat separately, as per reports. In some parts of the country, women and girls are also made to sleep outside the house, often in a hut or livestock shed.
However, it is not all doom and gloom.In 2018, India scrapped its tax on menstrual products following months of campaigning by activists over the government’s 12 per cent duty on menstrual hygiene products which sparked outrage across the country. It came to be known as ‘Lahu ka Lagaan’ which translates to “blood tax”.
The move was welcomed considering periods are one of the leading reasons why girls drop out of schools in India while others are forced to stay at home due to the lack of access to menstrual products. According to the recent National Family Health Survey, over 30 per cent of women between the age of 15 and 24 do not use hygiene methods like “locally prepared napkins, sanitary napkins, tampons, and menstrual cups” during their period.
(With inputs from agencies)
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2019. California – In June 2019, California did not include a tax on period products in their two year budget. Two years later California passed AB 150 to make period products tax exempt permanently. Assembly members Cristina Garcia and Lorena Gonzalez worked for years get period products tax free in California.What is the tampon tax? ›
Tampon tax (or period tax) is a popular term used to call attention to tampons, and other feminine hygiene products, being subject to value-added tax (VAT) or sales tax, unlike the tax exemption status granted to other products considered basic necessities.What are the problems with period poverty? ›
About 49.4% of women experiencing period poverty had depressive symptoms, compared to 28.6% of women who had not experienced menstrual poverty, and 40% had anxious symptoms (vs. 24.1%). The links between period poverty and depression were significant.What is tampon poverty? ›
Period Poverty describes the lack of access to menstrual products (most commonly pads, tampons, and menstrual cups), plus any absence of appropriate disposing and washing facilities for during the period cycle.Why is tampon tax a problem? ›
Since this tax specifically targets a product that only those assigned females at birth need, it creates an unfair financial burden on half the population. The tampon tax is also regressive because it disproportionately impacts the low-income who may already struggle to afford necessities.Why are people against the tampon tax? ›
Menstrual rights are human rights because—as the United Nations Population Fund explains—”menstruation is intrinsically related to human dignity.” The imposition of consumption taxes on tampons and other menstrual hygiene products discriminates against women and girls by making it more costly for them to access goods ...Is the tampon tax discrimination? ›
In the European Court of Human Rights, for example, there are several tax cases that recognize gender-differentiated taxes as a form of impermissible discrimination. This Article explains how the tampon tax is both a form of gender discrimination and a violation of human rights norms.Who benefits from repealing tampon taxes? ›
Low-income consumers enjoy a benefit from the repeal of the tax by more than the size of the repealed tax. For high-income consumers, the tax break is shared equally with producers.How many states have eliminated the tampon tax? ›
Twenty-three states and D.C. have eliminated the tax on menstrual products. View the list of states. Minnesota became the first state to end the tax on menstrual products in 1981, when the state exempted all health products from its state sales tax. It took 10 years for another state to remove the tax.What is the main cause of period poverty? ›
The lack of access to menstrual hygiene products can perpetuate the cycle of poverty by limiting education and employment opportunities. Period poverty disproportionately affects marginalized communities, including people experiencing homelessness, refugees, and those living in rural or remote areas.
Ending period poverty requires better education on menstruation but also the support of government, health and public bodies. A great deal of work is being done in also being done in this area by charities and individuals supporting them.Who is affected by period poverty? ›
Internationally, people who menstruate and who have low, or no income are most likely to face period poverty. In the US, homeless, low-income, and/or imprisoned women, transgender, and nonbinary individuals who menstruate are all impacted by period poverty at a much higher rate.Who is to blame for the tampon shortage? ›
Procter & Gamble claim the sales of Tampax tampons have soared since comedian-actress Amy Schumer starred in a series of “edu-tainment” commercials. The company is now dealing with shortages of the essential women's product.What is tampon day? ›
National Tampon Day is observed every year on May 12. Tampons are menstrual products used to absorb the flow of blood during a woman's menstruation.Is period poverty a tampon shortage? ›
In June, an article in Time highlighted social media complaints from consumers across the US about a shortage of period products on store shelves since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Period poverty organizations backed up the under-reported issue and cited drop-offs in tampon donations in recent months.How can tampon risk be reduced? ›
- Change tampons regularly (at least every four hours).
- Avoid using super-absorbent tampons.
- Only unwrap the tampon if you are going to use it immediately.
- Do not handle the tampon more than you need to.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after inserting the tampon.