The ‘Luxury’ That is Sanitary Products

There is nothing luxurious about having a period, it is a monthly occurrence that people with a uterus have no choice or control over, yet women in the UK are being taxed 5% on sanitary products as they are a ‘luxury’.

Despite this ridiculous and frankly misogynistic tax rate, when put to vote in the house of common on whether to keep the VAT rate on sanitary products, MPs narrowly voted to keep tampons and sanitary towels as luxury items.The list of 305 MPs decided that the tax on sanitary products was to be rightfully kept as it is already the lowest rate of tax on luxury items. But the fact is that these products are being taxed as they are accepted as being a luxury item.

The ability to afford sanitary products should be a basic right, and not one that should be taxed as a luxury. As many people who have ever experienced a period will understand, it is impossible to go about your everyday life without adequate sanitary products. The fact that people who menstruate are forced to choose to incorrectly take the free contraceptive pill to unknown health risks as a free alternative to the expense of sanitary products, or choose whether to budget money for food or tampons is ridiculous – and the decision to keep this 5% tax rate is even more outrageous.

The idea that the MPs making decisions on the monetary tax rate of sanitary product are all cis white men highlights the misogynistic and outdated way that these politicians are choosing to hold women’s bodies at ransom with no experience of the effects of menstration or any detrimental effect to their lives in protecting the tax rate.

The decision on taxing of sanitary products should not fall into a demographic of straight, cis men who are removed so completely from the issue at hand. They are not making a decision based upon empathy and understanding of the plight of the period but a decision based upon capital and expenditure – which is exactly why the decision didn’t pass, despite the margin being narrow.

Periods are in no way a luxury. In addition to women being taxed and made to choose between spending money on food or sanitary products, we are also simultaneously shamed for our natural bodily function. When Kiran Gandhi ran the London Marathon on her period and chose to free bleed to highlight the shaming of menstruation. The response to her free-bleed run was the cries of men saying how ‘unhygienic’ and ‘disgusting’ she is, and how they wouldn’t run a marathon after ‘shitting in their pants’. The correlation being made between excrement and period blood is an outrageous one, period blood is not unhygienic and is the material that could help host a baby and is in no way similar to excrement.

This itself highlights how periods are seen as being disgusting and aren’t understood by the male population – why do they need to, right? The reaction to Kiran Gandhi’s decision to free-bleed shows how it is unthinkable to go about your daily life while menstruating without adequate sanitary products.

Sanitary products should not be a privilege, it should not be classed as a luxury to be able to afford sanitary products – they should be offered freely and not have such a ridiculously high price tag.

The fact that this tax rate even exists for sanitary products is ridiculous, and to be put to vote in a male led and male dominated house of commons to vote to keep the tax in place defines how this country’s political system is policed by misogynistic and out of touch cis men. The majority of MPs who had the power to change the tax rate have no concept of the personal inflictions which menstruation can cause. Sanitary products are not as freely available as they should be, especially when people are already having to tighten their budgets in the wake of the conservative government – the very party leading the halt on the reduction of the tax rate. Food banks are becoming much more widely relied on, and in the face of this women are still expected to pay a 5% VAT rate on essential items which are deemed a luxury when items such as crocodile meat and jaffa cakes are seen as an essential item.

I refuse to accept that my natural bodily functions will be simultaneously shamed and taxed by cis men. If only these men saw the 5% tax rate on sanitary products as being as disgusting as period blood, we might actually have some sort of hope for change.

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