The tampon tax – a bloody mess?

14 April 2016

Written by: Katherine McLeod

Australia's tampon tax has stayed at ten percent despite the recent dropping of the tax in other countries, writes Katherine McLeod.

In Australia sanitary products like tampons are charged 10% GST, as they are not considered health necessities – unlike condoms and sunscreen.

Pippa* is a student who worked part time in a convenience store. She says that she refused to scan sanitary products when customers came to pay.

“The GST is imposed on products that are deemed to be a luxury,” she tells upstart.

“The fact that the GST applies to sanitary products suggests that, unlike men, women end up at a financial disadvantage because of it.”

Pippa says that her actions came from frustration at the perception of inequality.

“It’s unfair for women to be paying hundreds of dollars annually for something out of our control, such as menstruation,” she says.

“That was the primary reason why I decided not to scan sanitary products at my place of employment.”

Since 2000, the government has made an estimated $25 million a year from sanitary products. Removing the tax would create an estimated tax shortfall of around $30 million, according to the International Business Times.

community run petition created last May urged then treasurer Joe Hockey to remove the GST costs from sanitary products, and have them recognised as necessities.

The petition was signed by over 100,000 people and once again brought the tampon tax issue to the public’s attention.

When he appeared on the ABC’s Q&A in 2015, Hockey agreed that the GST should be removed from tampons. Three months later he ruled out removing the fee after meeting with state and federal treasurers.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott supported the decision to keep the tax, saying that he “understood there’s long been a push to take the GST off goods, which are one way or another regarded as health products… It’s certainly not something that this Government has a plan to do”.

Donna Stolzenberg, director of the Melbourne Homeless Collective and the Melbourne Period Project, argues that the GST is unfair for women, who don’t have a choice in needing the products.

“Personally I think there should be no tax on tampons or other sanitary items at all. These are not luxury items… unless medical intervention is in place, women have no choice where and when they have they have their period,” Stolzenberg tells upstart.

“If they have no money or not enough money to buy adequate sanitary items, they’re literally forced to beg for them or steal them. Either way it’s an humiliating experience no one should have to go through.”

She feels that the nature of sanitary products contributes to the lack of recognition and discussion of the subject.

“We talk about cancer, skin cancer, sunburn and how to prevent it. There’s no taboo there. With sanitary items…both genders tend to be quite head in the sand when it come to talking about them,” she says.

“I think it literally has more to do with where the product has to go than anything else.”

Homeless women frequently go without sanitary products while on their periods, something that the Melbourne Period Project is working to rectify.

Their aim is to remove the humiliation of having to go through their periods without sanitary products to use. If the GST was removed pressure on financially vulnerable women would ease.

The Melbourne Period Project does not need to pay GST as charities are exempt, while those who cannot afford sanitary items still need to find a way to pay the increased price.

Stolzenberg says that by not discussing the issues surrounding sanitary products, girls become conditioned to view their period as shameful.

“We have no hesitation talking about band-aids to patch up a skinned bloody knee. But if that blood is coming out of a vagina through no fault of the owner of said vagina, no one wants to know. People aren’t queasy about the blood; they’re queasy about the blood coming out of the vagina,” she says.

“You can market sunscreen as much as you like and tell the public they need it for their health. You can’t do that with a tampon because you have to allude to where it will end up.”

Elsewhere around the world, young girls are prevented from going to school while on their periods simply because they’re considered unclean, or just don’t have access to pads.

The recent call for reform in Australia follows France’s abolition of their tax on sanitary products.

Members of the French feminist group Georgette Sand protested in the streets as they campaigned for the tax to be abolished. French MPs voted on lowering the tax on both pads and tampons from the previous 20 per cent, to 5.5 per cent.

Similarly, Canada also removed their tax on sanitary tampons, pads and menstrual cups in July, after several online petitions calling out the tax received thousands of signatures.

Although the tampon tax is still in place, debate continues on whether or not sanitary products should be considered a necessity.

You can donate to the Melbourne Period Project here. 

*Name changed to protect privacy


Katherine McleodWebKatherine McLeod is a third year journalism student at La Trobe. You can follow her on twitter here: @kattt_mcleod