Half of the global population needs to use tampons, pads, menstrual cups, etc. for a week each month, every month for about 30 years. But sanitary products, inexplicably deemed “nonessential,” are still taxed around the world. Fortunately, campaigns have recently been launched in a number of countries, including the United States, urging for the removal of the tax.
The majority of states in the U.S. tax all “tangible personal property” but make exemptions for select “necessities” (non-luxury items). Necessities typically include groceries, food stamp purchases, medical purchases, clothes, and agriculture supplies. However, the list of exemptions varies depending on the state.
Most states maintain a “tampon tax,” which means the products are not exempt from state sales tax — a regulation which has come under intense fire over the past year and a half. Advocates proclaim that, like groceries, tampons are also a necessity, and should be tax-free.
“[Menstruation] is a condition that happens every month for women. It’s not a choice,” urged Fiona Ma, a CPA who sits on California’s Board of Equalization who now supports making tampons tax-free.
NYMag.com published an article in April that explained just how popular the tampon tax issue had become:
Pads and tampons have made political headlines in every single month of this year. In January, lawmakers in California, Utah, Virginia, and Michigan introduced anti-tampon-tax bills. They were mostly sponsored by women (shout out to Delegate Mark Keam in Virginia, though!). Notably, in each of those states, except California, the mostly Democratic sponsors are vastly outnumbered in their Republican-heavy legislatures. Also in January, the tampon tax made headlines when Obama learned about it while the camera was rolling, and declared he thought the tax was unfair. Then, in February, similar bills were introduced in Illinois, Wisconsin, and New York. In March, the city of Chicago dropped its tampon tax, and a class-action lawsuit brought by women in Ohio and New York state added pressure to stop taxing periods. In April, the New York Senate unanimously passed the tampon tax bill.
This is an astounding amount of national legislative momentum for an issue that was long considered to be women’s private, shameful burden. It’s no coincidence that efforts to end the tampon tax have cropped up alongside viral art projects, new businesses, and digital campaigns to destigmatize menstruation. The tampon tax is the perfect of-the-moment issue for lawmakers who want to signal their support for women — and take a stance on inequality. Ending the tax, which promises practical benefits for low-income women, is low-hanging fruit for legislators in liberal states.
Canada was once in America’s shoes, embarking on a journey to end the tampon tax, finding insult in the idea that items like incontinence products, cocktail cherries, human sperm, and wedding cakes are not subject to GST, but tampons were. But just a few days ago the Government of Canada nixed the GST on feminine hygiene products, including tampons.
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“This is a victory for all women. It shows what a group of determined women and citizens can do,” declared NDP MP Irene Mathyssen, who sponsored a private member’s bill on the issue. “The women who made this an issue, their voices have finally been heard.” American activists will do well to take a look at how Canadians pushed for a seemingly unquestionable right for women.
All parties supported the NDP motion presented earlier this month, but it was the New Democrats who paved the path, having demanded the government to eliminate the tax since 2004. It is estimated that removing the tax will cost the government around $36 million.
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