The Global Movement Against the Tampon Tax

Late last year, Germany announced it will stop taxing menstrual products as luxuries, marking them instead as necessities. Starting January 1, 2020, the sales taxes or value added tax (VAT) on these products was reduced from 17% to 9%. The change has been welcomed and celebrated not just in Germany but across the world by advocates for menstrual equity and the elimination of sales taxes that mark menstrual products as luxury items.

Jule Schulte, a German journalist who started the petition to change the VAT, was asked why she thought it took so long for this change to be made in the country. She said: “The fathers of the tampon tax never had a period.”

Campaigners and activists have argued that having a period is not a choice, and therefore menstrual products should not be considered luxury items with high taxes imposed on them.

In the United States, sales taxes vary by state. In March 2019, only ten states considered menstrual products as necessities and exempted them from sales tax. In October, that number went up to 17. Still, that is only 17 out of 50 American states exempting menstrual products such as tampons – hence the term “tampon tax” – from being considered luxuries.

The European Union allows for a reduction of the VAT on menstrual products to a minimum of 5%. This graphic shows the European countries where the tampon tax is highest and lowest.

Some countries have completed removed any sales taxes on menstrual products, such as Kenya, which blazed the trail by removing the VAT back in 2004. Australia, Canada, and India – a country where four out of five women lack access to the products they need – also have removed sales taxes on menstrual products.

In other countries, however, sales tax on menstrual products is as high as 27%, such as the case in Hungary. This graphic hows which countries have the highest sales tax for menstrual products.

For people who don’t menstruate, this may not seem like a big deal. Still, for those who do, it is huge. Particularly for menstruators who are living in poverty or experiencing homelessness, the tampon tax contributes to a phenomenon called period poverty.

As long as period poverty – a truly global issue – persists, activists around the globe will continue to fight for the end of the sexist tampon tax.

Reflection on the Attacks in Cologne

Whenever I see anything in the news about sexual assault or violent sexual crimes, my heart sinks. In my opinion, one of the most horrific acts of terror is to violate another person sexually.
Through the course of my work advocating for women and girls, I have listened to so many horrific stories of abuse, sexual assault, sodomy, rape and other forms of torture you can not even readily imagine. I have heard these stories from girls as young as five, from young women and young men. This issue hurts my heart. When skimming through the news, we often do not understand the full picture of how sexual violence impacts another human being.

On New Years Eve, women celebrating New Years in Cologne, Germany, never expected their evening of celebration would turn into horror. Women exiting the train at Cologne’s central station were surrounded by men in tight groups. The groups of men proceeded to grope women, sexually assault them and steal from them. My head is still spinning over the media frenzy. Many of the potential assailants are believed to be asylum seekers from North Africa and the Middle East. Protests broke out in the city demanding answers and care for those who have been so grossly violated. Now nearly two weeks after the attacks took place, the first arrests have been made. An Algerian man and seven others are being held in conjunction with the attacks.

In light of recent global debates related to migration, asylum seekers and refugees, this story has flooded the news from all angles and political viewpoints. There has been backlash against Germany’s migration processes and the 1.1 million people who have been allowed to enter Germany’s borders. Though many of the assailants may have been from Middle Eastern and North African decent, one American woman reported, a group of Syrian men aiding in her rescue when she was separated from her boyfriend. Hundreds of questions are being considered: Should Germany close its borders to all refugees seeking asylum? Is violence increasing due to political unrest pouring from other countries? Have the police and government officials taken appropriate responses to finding the assailants? Are asylum seekers being targeted? Within weeks, this story has gone from a mass tragic event to a huge political argument. There has been massive uproar on social media, in the streets in Germany and around the world. In spite of the controversy, I think we must remember one thing:

No matter where you stand politically, sexual violence and assault is ALWAYS WRONG.

Simple. No one, neither woman, man or child, ever deserves this type of violation. The attacks in Cologne are not acceptable. If we can not all commit to fight against sexual violence, my friends, I fear this type of mass violence will only continue to reverberate throughout our world. Do you want to know the worst part? What often is lost in the controversy are the courageous stories of the young women themselves. Young women, some as young as fifteen years old, now have a deeper fear they may have never had before. Women do not feel safe. Women young and old may in some way even feel they are at fault or have immense shame for what happened. Many will never have an opportunity to share their story and will suffer in silence the harmful effects of being violated both physically and mentally mistreated. In all of the political debates and arguing, let’s not forget that their stories and voices are what should matter the most.

Cover Photo Credit: Andy Walker, Flickr Creative Commons