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.

Talking Frankly: Vaginas & Menstrual Hygiene

I have an insatiable urge to persuade my sisters around the world to tear off shame with all their strength. I yearn to tell them to deny society the privilege of silencing us when when we want to talk about things that matter. Things like vaginas and menstruation.

Here is the real deal.

We can crush the walls erected around us in the name of culture simply by talking about the well-being of our vaginas. During menstruation, things can get a little bit messy down there, and so you need proper sanitary wear to maintain freshness and hygiene.

It’s absurd that around the world, many are still found wanting of these necessities. Can you imagine the trauma women have to go through? There is a dire need to talk about vaginal health and hygiene during menstruation. It’s only by doing so that we will terminate the silence and the myths.

The vagina is a part of the body which must be hidden from view. It’s not something a woman can easily speak about – that’s how we are socialized. Therefore, over the years, generations have been enduring menstruation in silence and shame, and without proper sanitary wear.

But has the silence been beneficial? Certainly not. Our misery around menstruation is utter, lonely and complete.

This is why I plead with my Zimbabwean government – and other governments across the globe that have remained ignorant – to prioritize menstrual hygiene.

In Zimbabwe, the provision of free sanitary products – especially in rural and marginalized areas where women and girls live in poverty – should be a central focus.

Vaginas are naturally moist. This means that women without access to safe sanitary products during menstruation become at risk of disease and infection. I wonder, then, about the vaginal health of girls and women who are forced for whatever reason to use cow dung, leaves or grass?

This seems like a good moment to say that if it has ever crossed your mind that talking about the hygiene of vaginas during menstruation is disgusting, wait! What’s really disgusting is the fact that our governments are able to provide free condoms of all shapes and sizes, but have the audacity to reiterate that they can’t afford to provide free sanitary products.

Menstruation is not a choice.

You can’t wake up one day and decide not to have your period. It will happen whether you like it or not, and whether you’re equipped to deal with it or not.

Refusing to prioritize menstrual hygiene is a sure-fire way to further perpetuate gender inequality. In many parts of the world, women and girls constitute a larger percentage of those who are economically dependent. Many simply cannot afford the cost of sanitary wear throughout their menstruating years. Denying access to basic menstrual hygiene products impedes on individuals’ well-being as equal human beings.

The scales of imbalance need to be tilted and menstrual hygiene must be recognized as a priority in order to do so.

The girls and women using cow dung, leaves or grass during menstruation are, in most cases, predominantly poor, geographically and socially isolated from the rest of the world and lacking in political power. It is important for charitable organizations, advocacy campaigns and governments to come up with interventions that are compatible with their circumstances. A ‘one size fits all’ approach won’t work.

Although some of Zimbabwe’s most marginalized communities are still conservative, I can confidently argue that within these communities there are many individuals who are eager for change. They want it so badly, but they just need that push of support to get the work done.

I firmly believe that ending the silence and shame surrounding menstruation is possible, one community at a time.

Along with universal access to products, what if women could be empowered with knowledge to make simple handmade sanitary pads using low cost materials? I think it would be ground breaking.

The problem of unhygienic menstruation can be solved if practical interventions are executed well and the cultural taboos are challenged. Do you agree? I’d love to hear your perspective.

?Read more menstruation posts on girlsglobe.org?

?Check out 
Girls’ Globe’s Menstrual Hygiene Day Facebook Live, where we challenged taboos and stigma by busting common myths around menstruation?

Learning to Honour our Sacred Menstruation

I can still remember how I felt when I got my first period. I was scared, confused and really not sure what was happening to my body. My mother took me aside and explained that I was becoming a woman.

She taught me how to use a sanitary pad, but emphasized that this was a deeply personal experience to be kept private. As an obedient daughter, I didn’t share my menstrual matters with anyone – not my siblings, not my friends, not my father, no-one. It was my secret to bear silently.

Young girls are taught from their first period that menstruation is taboo and dirty.

They are taught that however natural it is, it’s also shameful, disgusting and a source of impurity. I learnt early that menstruation was not to be discussed openly, and I understood that no-one should be made aware of it.

All of this appears deeply illogical when you consider that nearly half the world’s population will go through menstruation in their lifetime. How has modern society managed to convince us all that menstruation, a natural bodily process, is a social and spiritual abomination?

As a woman in her late twenties, it is only now that I have decided to change my perspective regarding menstruation.

The emotional and spiritual work I have been doing in last two years has helped me realize that menstruation is something beautiful, sacred and worthy of celebrating. This realization has required a process of unlearning the beliefs and ideas I held about menstruation. It has also required me to embrace my body and love it in all its phases and manifestations. I’m learning to tap into the sacred power of menstruation and to understand what it means to be divinely feminine.

Menstruation is a gift. Think about it.

It is a process that allows us to give birth to new life. It’s a function of the wondrous uterus, a self-cleansing and purposeful organ. Menstruation is an experience that unifies women across the world. It reminds us of our great feminine abilities. How can we not celebrate this? Menstruation is deserving of more recognition and appreciation.

In many ancient cultures, menstruation was seen as a sacred and precious time. Due to the connection of the cycle to the moon phases, menstruating women were believed to harness great ‘shamanic’ and spiritual power. Anthropologists suggest this may explain the use of menstrual huts in certain cultures, originally intended as safe spaces for women to retreat at the ‘height of their powers’.

In honouring menarche, different cultures celebrate a girl’s first period. They view it as a right of passage in to womanhood and mark the occasion with a ritual or cultural practice. Menstruation is given the respect and the regard it is worthy of.

What if we chose to look at menstruation differently?

Let us remove the stigma and shame. We have an opportunity to embrace and acknowledge something beautiful and fascinating. Beyond the biology, menstruation is a spiritual time that allows women to connect to a deeper part of themselves. It’s a time to release old and negative energies, and begin a new phase of self-growth and reflection. To me, that sounds like something worth celebrating.

?Read more menstruation posts on girlsglobe.org ?

Tampon Tax and the Fight for Menstrual Equity

Are menstrual products a necessity or a luxury?

In the United States, products are taxed based on whether they are ‘necessities’ or ‘luxuries’. Products deemed luxuries include a sales tax – on average this tax is 6.25%. Products considered necessities do not. Medications, shampoo, ChapStick and Viagra are some examples of products exempt from the tax.

Products not considered necessities, and therefore not exempt from sales tax in the majority of American states? Tampons and pads.

Currently, only ten states have removed menstrual products from the list of taxed items. Nevada is the most recent to do so – their exemption came into action January 1, 2019. Other states include New York, Illinois, and Florida, plus Washington, DC.

In an interview from 2016, former president Barack Obama spoke about the issue: “I have to tell you, I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items […] I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”

For those who do not menstruate, this may not seem like a significant issue. But as Obama agrees, it is an issue of gender inequality and access to healthcare.

“The basic idea is that women should not be at a disadvantage in the health-care system and this is just one more example of it, which I confess I was not aware of until you brought it to my attention,” he explains.

The financial burden of sales tax on menstrual products is a significant health and economic issue.

According to the office of California assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, “women in California pay about $7 per month for 40 years of tampons and sanitary napkins.” That’s a total of more than three thousand U.S. dollars per year. Garcia pointed out that this issue “is not insignificant […] especially if you’re on a tight budget.”

The added cost of sales tax on menstrual products leaves many with a difficult choice: buying menstrual products or buying food. Women are largely already at an economic disadvantage due to the gender wage gap and poverty. Around 14% of girls and women in the USA – compared to 11% of boys and men – live below the poverty line.

“Having your period when [you’re] poor means that once a month you have the added stress of finding a way to pay for these essentials,” Garcia said in a Facebook post.

Several campaigns and organizations are bringing awareness to the issue of menstrual equity in the USA.

There’s PERIOD, a non-profit organization promoting the belief that menstrual care is a basic right. Distributing Dignity provides bras, tampons, and pads to women in need. Period Equity is a law and policy organization fighting for menstrual equity.

There are also awareness initiatives, such as Menstrual Hygiene Day, which highlight “the challenges women and girls worldwide face due to their menstruation.”

Most recently, the issue gained global attention when Period. End of Sentence won an Oscar for best short documentary. The film tells the story girls and women in Hapur, India where a machine was installed to create affordable sanitary pads. It also discusses the girls’ and women’s experience with menstruation stigma.

Efforts towards gender equality must include menstrual equity.

Menstrual products are undoubtedly necessities and not luxuries for those who need them. As long as women are required to spend more on essentials, we will remain at an economic disadvantage.

Yes, I’m on my Period. No, I’m Not Dirty.

Today, my period came a couple of days earlier than usual so it caught me off guard at work. I asked a co-worker if she had a pad or tampon I could borrow. She handed me a case that she expected me to take to the bathroom and return.

Instead, I opened it and took out the pad. She looked at me and asked, “don’t you mind walking around with it?” I replied, “I don’t, it’s perfectly natural.” When I returned to my desk I started thinking…why is being in your period still frowned upon? God forbid someone hears you say the word ‘menstruation’, because it is ‘rude’ to talk about the topic in public.

It’s 2019 and the cashier at the drug store still looks at me strangely when I buy tampons and say no thank you when she offers me a plastic bag. How dare I walk down the street without hiding my malign purchase?

For centuries, women on their periods have been thought of as ‘dirty’ or ‘impure’. This has to stop. It is a social construction that leads to gender discrimination, misinformation of facts and taboos.

This experience I had at work came at a very convenient moment since last week the documentary Period. End of Sentence won an Oscar. This brilliant documentary shows us how women in rural India fight for menstrual equality. But our sisters in India aren’t the only ones battling with this issue.

At least 500 million women and girls globally lack space and supplies for handling their periods.

In Mexico, where 44% of our women live in poverty, many don’t even have access to decent period care, let alone healthcare supplies. This lack of healthcare access causes them to live in hygiene crisis and at risk of infection.

In some countries, menstrual supplies are no longer taxed and in others they are totally free of cost. Governments needs to be on our side with these initiatives so women from more vulnerable social situations don’t have to choose between food on their plate or menstrual supplies.

As women, we need to empower other women to speak freely about their periods without embarrassment or shame.

We need to speak our minds when we are faced with stigma and taboo.

Men need to stop ignoring or repelling us whenever we talk about menstruation and get involved in listening to what this process means to us and how we get through it.

It’s 2019. Menstruation is natural. Let’s end period taboo once and for all.

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Break the Barriers: Menstruation in the UK

In March 2018, Plan International launched its Break the Barriers: Menstrual Manifesto report. With interviews from over 80 menstruators, the report shines a spotlight on issues facing people who menstruate in the UK today. To celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day 2018, I’d like to look at some of the report’s key findings, so that on this important day we may all make a commitment to reducing the stigma attached to menstruation.

The internet offers good and bad education

Whilst the internet is often a space where derogatory comments lurk on social media pages, or where the negative stereotypes of menstruation are reinforced through sexist memes, it also offers a space for menstruators and non-menstruators alike to educate themselves on the biology and politics surrounding periods. YouTube stars such as Hannah Witton and Byrony Farmer offer informative videos that move away from the traditionally uncomfortable style of menstruation education.

Period myths still prevail

Age-old myths surrounding periods such as, “during your period you can’t go swimming”, or “using a tampon means you’re no longer a virgin” still hold strong today. Through lack of education, menstruators are consuming negative reactions to periods and understanding menstruation as something unpleasant and unnatural. These negative notions then leave menstruators feeling weaker and more irrational than their counterparts, perpetuating sexist stereotypes.

Gender-neutrality needs to be addressed

Not all those who identify as female menstruate, and people who identify as genders other than female also menstruate. This understanding that not all females menstruate is important in the education of menstruators globally. Currently, the transgender/non-binary experience of menstruation means that some young people are being excluded from necessary menstrual education within school settings.

The education system is failing young people

Schools are contributing to the cultural taboos of menstruation and failing to provide high-quality education. Menstruators are having to ask their teachers – in front of their classmates – when they need to use bathrooms. They are being refused access to toilets, and when they do have access, facilities necessary for menstrual health are missing. Many menstruators worry about leaking at school and the humiliation they will face. There is a lack of understanding within the education system and this is further entrenching a culture of embarrassment.

Period poverty is a reality

The level of period poverty in the UK is unacceptably high and found across many regions. But an important distinction Plan UK makes is that period poverty is understood to be relative poverty. Poverty is not just the condition of being without money or food, but also expands to feelings of exclusion and powerlessness. Due to women’s roles in family life it is often female family members who absorb the shock of poverty. For this reason, many young girls go without period products in order to reduce financial burden.

If there is one thing to take away from Plan’s report it’s the need for each of us to commit to listening to menstruators’ experiences. Doing so will open up conversation, which will in turn challenge the current taboos and stigmas. And, talking about menstruation ensures that it remains high on the agenda; forcing governments, corporations and educational institutions to focus on menstrual equality. We can all make a difference today by committing to talking about menstruation until equality is achieved.

Read more, and download the full report at: https://plan-uk.org/act-for-girls/girls-rights-in-the-uk/break-the-barriers-our-menstrual-manifesto