The VAT on sanitary products that was maintained by popular government vote a few months back is an insult to over half of our population. However, it is even more of a problem for specific groups of people; those dependent on student loans, those with particularly low incomes or homeless people, for example. For those who experience periods, sourcing sanitary products can be immensely difficult or just plain expensive, despite the fact that they are so necessary. I would argue that tampons or sanitary towels are logistically even more of a necessity that toilet roll if you want to get into picky details, a relevant comparison considering how quick people are to point out that loo roll is also taxed. In addition, I would make the point that many feminists and other political activists have made before me – focussing on one issue does not imply that you aren’t aware of, or don’t care about others. The fact that toilet roll is taxed is just as ridiculous as the tax on sanitary products but firstly does not target a specific demographic, and secondly as previously mentioned, toilet paper is actually easier to go without (given the continuous nature of menstruation).
The government have now switched tactics and begun advertising intent to use the money raised by this tax to support survivors of domestic abuse. But obviously this has only raised more questions and is still problematic. Tying domestic abuse directly to sanitary products is utterly bizarre, if they want to help survivors why not tax cake or other food items, there is a vast range of luxury items that would raise far more money without posing such a problem. The list includes; exotic meat, edible icing flowers, Jaffa Cakes and alcoholic jellies – it would surely make more sense to tax these products that aren’t a basic necessity? It is also not the exclusive responsibility of people who menstruate to support people who have suffered abuse; this should not be singled out as a charitable cause and should be an issue amongst many that is a priority of the population as a whole. The other major problem with this suggestion is the gendered language surrounding it, the government are deeming menstruation a biological event experienced only by women, thus completely erasing the experiences of trans men, non binary people and women who don’t menstruate. This is being followed up by an association that implies that domestic abuse is also an experience and responsibility solely of women. The other point often raised is the difficulty of removing the tax from an item in regards to EU laws, however activists are not arguing that the removal of VAT is simple or straightforward. We are attempting to point out that it should be prioritised more.
These arguments only provide a brief summary of some of the reasons that the tax on sanitary products remains massively problematic. But hopefully it is enough to point out why people are staging such a variety of protests against the tax. Charlie Edge is a strong example of someone who has recently held a protest against the tax (free-bleeding outside the houses of parliament) and received massive media attention from radio stations, newspapers and magazines. Inspired by her and others, Royal Holloway students have spent the last week focussing on the issues surrounding sanitary products. Tegan Marlow (President of the Feminism Society) arranged a collection of tampons and pads for local homeless charities that went down immensely well with two enormous boxes being filled. The society went on to hold a discussion last week on why the tax is a problem as well as how to break the stigma and squeamishness surrounding menstruation in general. This week with the help of Tegan and the Feminism Society, I organised a protest/campaign stall on Royal Holloway’s campus. We made various signs containing slogans against the tax and asked people to offer their comments and take part in photos with the signs or whiteboards on which they could offer their own response. We received a surprising amount of enthusiastic participation and managed to collect a huge number of photographs with the help of The Orbital’s photographer Yasmeen. A massive range of students got involved, not limited purely to women which was great to see and we will be sharing these photos and responses online and through media outlets over the next fortnight.