(For Parallel Magazine)
A few weeks back, members of the UK Parliament (including many women), voted to maintain VAT on sanitary products. Sanitary towels and tampons are still on the list of taxed ‘non-essential, luxury items’ that does not include edible icing flowers, jaffa cakes, alcoholic jellies and exotic meats like kangaroo or crocodile. Given the utterly bizarre situation of deeming products used to stem unavoidable blood flow a luxury, but crocodile meat an obvious essential, people have been reacting online and in public with complete outrage. Many protest groups and events have been formed all over the UK but Charlie Edge’s demonstration has received particular media attention, being covered by Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, The Independent and The Metro to name but a few. She has even been invited to speak on radio shows following this fantastic coverage because her protest was particularly poignant, having realised that regular demonstrations were not going to cut it and the government need to be shown just how ‘luxurious’ menstruation really is.
On Friday 6th November Charlie, along with two friends including Ruth Howarth, spent her day protesting outside of the Houses of Parliament whilst free-bleeding. They chose white trousers to make sure people would take notice and posted the following status on Facebook to inform people about their demonstration:
‘Today i am forgoing tampons and pads outside the houses of parliament to show how ‘luxury’ tampons really are.
We are also raising money to buy tampons for homeless shelters, womens shelters and the refugee crisis.
We’re getting lots of dirty looks and someone just shouted at us to get a job.
But everyone keeps saying “haha omg how quickly would we get free tampons if everyone stopped wearing them?!”
So, I’m giving it a go.
Taxes are necessary, i get it.
So are tampons/ pads.
They’re not luxury items, anymore than jaffa cakes, edible cake decorations, exotic meats or any other number of things currently not taxed as luxury items.
Maternity pads are taxed, but incontinence pads arent.
We’ve had enough. Maybe bleeding on their doorstep will get the tories to do something about this?’
Following all the attention Charlie and Ruth have remained cool and collected, posting grateful responses to everyone supporting them via social media and articulate, polite responses to those that have been critical. They have also made sure to keep linking people to articles and information to further their campaign as well as making sure the public are aware that it is not just a women’s issue: not all women menstruate and menstruating does not mean you are a woman. I was lucky enough to get to chat with Charlie, who was very friendly and happy to contribute her message and aims. I asked her to explain what happened and fill me in on the details:
Can you describe your demonstration?
We went to Westminster, popped into a public toilet first to remove tampons an then stood opposite parliament for three hours, whilst posting online about what we were doing and why we were doing it.
What sort of reaction did you get from passers by?
Mostly positive! I was very surprised! One or two people told us “get a job” or “get your tits out” as they drove past but almost everyone who stopped to talk to us was kind and supportive.
What sort of reaction have you had on social media?
It’s been about 50/50. But I’ve already responded to most of the negative comments. All the information is out there and I’m getting bored of saying the same things again and again and linking people to my responses. It’s all out there for anyone interested enough to do the research. We’ve found that generally though, most people who hate us are going to hate us regardless of how polite we are and how calmly we try to explain our argument, so I’ve had to ask a couple of people to stop messaging me and had to block a few more. Some people just can’t help but have the last word. People are reeeeally trying to upset Ruth and me and honestly, they need to re-evaluate their moral compass much more than we need to re-evaluate our political methods.
Why is this such an important issue?
Because it’s a government, made up mostly of cis men, essentially taxing us £100 for the ‘luxury’ of bleeding once a month for fifty years. People keep saying that it’s so small an issue and “think of women in third world countries”. First of all, if you’re using women in the third world as a reason not to deal with sexism in the UK, you probably have white knight syndrome. It is possible for there to be more than one bad thing at a time. If our 5% tax went on free sanitary care for the third world then I’d shut up pronto but it doesn’t, it goes towards necessities like helicopters and crocodile meat. There are also plenty of women living in poverty in the UK. If our 5% tax went on free pads and tampons on the NHS similar to the C-card scheme, then I wouldn’t mind paying it! This is not just a women’s issue it’s a class issue.
If you could summarise in one sentence what you wish to say to the government what would it be?
Try harder!! And also, worry more about protecting people and worry less about protecting money.
Have you got any future plans for the campaign and how would you advise others to contribute?
Ruth and I are currently raising money and getting donations of sanitary items to donate to shelters. We’re dealing with the response to this before we do anything else. A lot of people have asked me if I’ll do another protest and they’ll join me. We might do another! But you know what please don’t wait for us to take the lead! Start your own protests! All over the UK! Let’s show the government that it isn’t just “two girls outside parliament” but thousands of angry people!!