Tampon tax: when the meeting is buffing

Article by Capucine Olinger /
Fast N Curious /
December 04, 2015 /
Click here to view original /

[French to English Translation]

On October 14, the National Assembly rejected MPs’ request to reduce the tax on women’s hygiene products (tampons and towels), currently 20%, to 5.5%. Introduced in Canada in 2013, this tax – which is considered discriminatory and sexist – has been debated in many countries around the world since last year.

Against all odds, the Senate finally voted on 21 November last the lowering of VAT, relaunching the debate.

2014: Year of the Rules

Often taboo, passed over in silence or found in conversations exclusively feminine, the subject of the rules emerged freely for several months on various social networks, in the media or public debates.

We are not talking here only of feminism, but of a desire not to hide unnecessarily a phenomenon that everyone knows.

Mixed reviews, questions, unanimity is not yet fully adopted, as when Instagram censors – then put online under the pressure of Internet users – the photo of a blogger where one sees on her trousers and sheet of tasks Of menstrual blood.

From advertisements that depict a modest blue liquid to pejorative representations on television and film – analyzed in Periods in Pop Culture, an essay by Lauren Rosewarne – a real media spiral was wrapped around this theme.

If the subject appears anecdotal, it is none the less serious, for the subject that most speaks of this monthly “event” is the tax on basic necessities, otherwise known as a “tampon tax”.

In France, any product or service purchased is subject to value added tax (VAT), which is the main source of government revenue (€ 193 billion according to the draft finance bill for 2016). There are three rates: the reduced rate at 5.5%, the intermediate rate at 10% and the so-called normal rate at 20%.

Hygiene products, and therefore also those of female hygiene, are included in this latter rate and are therefore taxed at 20%.

By comparison, in so-called “basic necessities” which are taxed at 5.5%, there are obvious products such as water but also … foie gras, sodas or sweets. This raises the question of what is meant by “first necessity”.
With this tax, the feminist collective Georgette Sand estimated that a woman spent on average 1500 € in hygienic protection during her life.

In Sweden, where the subject has become so common that the media have renamed the year 2014 “the year of the rules”, blogger Clara Henry has even asked Social Security to refund her € 5800, the price spent during her (The cost of living being more expensive in Sweden).

There is therefore a real economic stake, which can prove to be prohibitive in the disadvantaged countries, as regards access to these products.

In India, where only 12% of women have access to it because of their cost, these products are very rarely marketed, thus affecting the way of life, and of course the health of women.

But closer to us, the cost of these products is also problematic in the most precarious environments. Free distribution in England for the homeless, success of the menstrual cup (reusable protection), invention of reusable and absorbent underwear … there are more and more alternatives to avoid this unusual and costly diktat.

The initial tax that was introduced in Canada in 2013 – by Irene Mathyssen, a woman, and then 5%, has since been suppressed under media pressure and after a general discontent.

Many “operations” have been launched in various countries to cancel this discriminatory tax which classifies a stamp to the same rank of utility as caviar (remember that having its rules neither a choice nor a preventable phenomenon).

In 2014, many British militants sent bloody panties in protest to David Cameron. Recently, this “Culotte Gate” was repeated in France with hundreds of stained underwear sent to François Hollande, Manuel Valls and Marisol Touraine, Minister of Health.

To denounce the high cost of tampons and awaken certain consciousness, a British collective revisited a commercial, on the model of the advertisements for perfume. The tampon has become almost luxurious: sensuality, desire for the object, large apartment on a background of enchanting music, the tampon is presented with derision as a rare and precious object.

After a number of hashtags on social networks such as #TamponTax or #NoTaxOnTampon and an online petition – sent directly to Michel Sapin, the finance minister – with more than 27,000 signatures, the fight could finally end.

Indeed, senators activists on November 19 filed amendments to the draft budget 2016 to reduce this tax on these products, finally voted on November 21.

But if Pascale Boistard, the State Secretary for Women’s Rights, declared “that this request should be taken seriously,” Christian Eckert, Secretary of State for Budget, said that ” Not move on VAT rates “.

Although passed in the Senate, against the advice of Christian Eckert, this amendment must pass on December 10 to the National Assembly. The latter being made up of 75% of male MPs, business to follow …