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Articles > Rant January, 20, 2015

Bloody taxes: I pay for being on my period

Summer Dolan
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Dyssmenorrhoea. Period pain. It’s not pleasant, but it’s common. A study by Feminax in 2005 found that over 80% of a group of 600 females suffered from period pains, and that 10% of the group found the pains so debilitating that they were forced to take monthly time off work. Despite the commonly portrayed ideas of what women like to get up to on their periods, (roller-skating… really?!), anything that doesn’t involve being laid in bed and assuming the foetal position can be really quite difficult.

Photo by Franca Gimenez

Photo by Franca Gimenez

And that’s just the bodily side of things.
Socially, menstruation is even more difficult. Maybe, this is down to the fact that we exist in a society where women are so extensively sexualised that the thought of a vagina being used for anything more than accommodating penises is somehow repulsing, or perhaps it’s because of many people’s first encounter with periods – an awkward sex education class, surrounded by peers who find anything to do with the opposite sex gross. One thing, however, is definitely for certain. Periods are taboo.

There are many examples of this. The use of blue, (not red), liquids in advertisements for feminine hygiene products just serves to reinforce the idea that a period is disgusting, dirty, and something to be hidden away – and was only broken in 2011. When Uta Pippig ran and won the Boston marathon in 1996 whilst menstruating, ( a hats off moment, I’m sure we’ll all agree), there was hushed discussion of ‘physical problems’. When Karen Houppert found herself exploring the taboo within her work, she concluded that periods aren’t just forbidden, but confusing; we’re taught how natural they are, but simultaneously told to hide them. Even menopause, signifying the end of this apparent stain, (forgive the pun), on our lives, is strictly secreted.

Photo by .donna.dark

Photo by .donna.dark

Subsequently, with all of society’s anxiety surrounding the topic, you’d think it’d be made easy for us to hide this natural seven million year old process, considering the probable reaction if we were to venture out, ‘riding the crimson tide’, without some form of sanitation. You’d assume, considering the mounting evidence that society really doesn’t want to hear about your bodily fluids, they’d consider their sanitation and prevention of trips to the hospital to deal with fairly unpleasant health problems, or even just the discretion of your bodily fluids, ‘essential’, would you not?

Well, apparently, when it comes to Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, this is not the case! No, Mr Osborne believes female sanitary products are ‘unessential’, and in need of a 5% tax rate. A tax on gender.

Fundamentally this means that women are expected to not only hobble our way to whatever shop is closest, clutching our cramping stomachs, and casting awkward glances behind us to make sure nobody has noticed that we are part of the female gender, (and as such our body reflects this), but we are then expected to pay excessive amounts of money in order to maintain our hygiene during this ridiculously challenging monthly occasion. What’s bemusing about this decision is that, if we were so inclined, we could theoretically hobble our way to said shop and then purchase – tax-free – men’s razors, cake decorations, alcoholic dessert jellies, and… wait for it… crocodile steaks.

Evidently, Mr Osborne is fairly confused as to the definition of essential. I for one, having only ever come in contact with one item from that list, (cake decorations), can confirm that I’m somehow managing to survive. The same couldn’t be said if I didn’t have feminine hygiene products. If I didn’t use them, not only would I be severely criticised within our society, or be forced into perpetually buying new sets of underwear to replace those that wouldn’t look out of place a slasher film prop, but I’d be seriously risking my health.

When the lovely Laura Coryton set up the ‘Stop taxing periods. Period.’ petition this year, (now representing 47,000 voices), it urged Mr Osborne to ‘recognise the essentiality’ of these supposedly un-needed products and advised him that ‘failure to acknowledge this, especially in comparison with other menial products, is an insult to men and women alike, and should be reversed. ‘

So come on Mr Osborne. Stop taxing periods.
Period.

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  1. Laura Ferris

    What makes this a bigger kick in the ovaries is male razors are tax free “necessaties” ….

  2. Esther Ogunmefun

    This is absolutely ridiculous! We have no control over our periods and therefore it is indeed essential that we have the appropriate sanitation products.. tax free. Also, I don’t understand why it is so expensive to buy sanitation products from the machines in toilets in different establishments. Surely, if we are inclined to buy them from that machine and not the shops as usual, it must be an emergency! So why is it so costly for just 2-3 sanitary towels. The decision to put a tax on these products is insane, they might as well tax water while they’re at it.

  3. Jessica Mullett

    Its disgusting that we’re being taxed, this needs to change! But I have to say I don’t know many women who see periods as a taboo, having said that’s my experience, but just to prove my point that periods should not be a taboo – I shall announce that I’m currently not on my period but I will be in two weeks time! I have no shame and I happily would walk around in the street, a box of tampons hand in hand, as well as paracetamol to rid the pain!

  4. Katie Armstrong

    Sanitary products should be free as a basic human right is to have sanitation. By taxing us they are denying this human right! Why should only females be taxed for something natural? Maybe we should start taxing men just because they have a wet dream. Its ludicrous.

  5. Daisy Rogers-Simmonds

    Totally agree with this – I always found sanitary products too expensive but I had no idea they were taxed, let alone by 5%! I’m now often quite crude when talking about the problem (by general standards) to hammer the point home – in fact I think the problem is education. A lot of my male friends had no idea of the pain a woman can be in, and a fair number didn’t even know how long a period can last. None of my male friends knew that by not regularly changing sanitary products throughout the day, a woman or girl could get toxic shock syndrome and potentially die. This is stuff that I’ve known since I was 10, so I found it shocking that guys just had no idea. In fact, a couple of guys I spoke to thought that a girl only needs one tampon per period. Ew. I don’t understand why sanitary products aren’t essential for females – without, we’d be leaving trails of blood behind us for a week and be putting our own health at risk.

    • Summer Dolan

      Hi Daisy, I completely agree that education regarding menstruation, (and reproduction in general), is vital in getting rid of the stigma surrounding it. I for one think that sex education needs to be reorganised within schools, as I remember in primary school the girls being seperated from the boys to talk about periods – surely this is just demonstrating to them from a young age that this is not something to concern them? And that’s just the tip of the iceberg surrounding sex ed lessons and what they lack in – I don’t remember once the importance of consent being stressed, in any sex education lesson I’ve ever had. How wrong is that?!
      Thanks for the feedback!

  6. Ashley Holmes

    i agree, sanitary towels etc.. are way over priced especially for us students or students to be!

  7. Alice Palermo

    I take time off of college and work because of my time of the month. The last thing us ladies need is an increase in price on our essentials!

  8. shannon

    this is a brilliant article, an why arn’t razors taxed, you can choose to grow your hair or not but you cant choose to not have a period, believe me ive tried ahaha i would if i could though

  9. Georgia Davidson

    Fully agree with this argument. Thankful that someone has flagged this issue, truley despicable.

  10. Jemima luxton

    It would be interesting to see whether a change in views would occur if the chancellor was female instead… Food for thought. This is a brilliant article full of many truths far too often unsaid. Good job.

  11. Callum Green

    As a man (with a girlfriend) I completely agree that this tax is both confusing and wrong. As far as I can tell, my partner does not have a choice every month, and I’m pretty sure if she did, she would definitely chose against taking part in what seems like a week of pure pain and misery.

    What it interesting is the things that aren’t taxed. Lawn Seed? Male razors? Are these really ‘necessities’. Definitely not. The Government spends their time worrying about things that really should be worried about, and not enough time on this things we seriously need adjusting….Are we heading down a one way street?

  12. Gabi Sroka

    Ridiculous why do women have to pay tax for having their periods? Why are tampons or pads not a necessity? Since when are tampons and pads are luxury? I never asked for a period, so why should I pay tax for it!

  13. Ramsha Rukhsar

    So stupid knowing that they want to tax pads. Is it our fault we get periods? They’re just making use of the many pads bought everyday to get more money, that’s all. They have no sympathy at all, even if we were to go around leaking they still wouldn’t care, it’s unbelievable.

  14. Traci Doak

    Shock in, women always suffer wonder what the men would think if we didn’t use anything they definitely wouldn’t like that

  15. Sophie Laing

    I completely agree with all of this. The idea that we are being taxed purely because we are female is absurd. Everyone’s always talking about how much better gender equality is these days, but this says otherwise. And in who’s world are crocodile stakes deemed an essential?! The whole thing is really quite insulting, and I think that George Osborne would think a bit differently if he had to deal with periods every month, Guys really have no idea how lucky they are.

  16. Aisha Rayyab

    How about all us girls give up on the world. Let’s see how it goes on without us #girlpower

  17. Lydia Carter

    Whats annoying is you could get the pill for much much cheaper- yet in actual value surely the sanitary produts are worth lesss?????

  18. Emmma Bunce

    This is a great argument!! I wrote to my MP and they basically replied it is life get over it! it is ridiculous!!

  19. Mary Wiley

    This is ridiculous, so we’re basically being taxed for being fertile. I’m actually shocked.

  20. Aymen Jaleel

    This is obviously over pricey

  21. Jade Beet

    100% clear that this is not right, the sad thing is that it’s allowed to happen, personally I strongly believe pads should be available by allowing so many vouchers per woman, or maybe I’m just being cheeky???

  22. Ellen Wilkinson

    agree totally ridiculous

  23. sakeena baden

    yeah, sanitation products are definitely overpriced. It costs 2 or 3 pounds for a little box of sanitary towels, totally ridiculous; they should bring the prices down; some people may not be able to afford such products and what do you expect them to do, leave a trail of blood behind! i think not!

  24. Grace Boswell

    I completely agree with this article, it raises some very good points, and I think if you can get something like condoms for free at health clinics, you should definitely be able to have a place for women to get sanitary products. Ultimately I have always seen this as a way for the government to make money out of women, as we do not have a choice whether we get them as they are essential, and I think that having to pay over £2 for 12 sanitary towels is not acceptable.

  25. Sophie Batham

    really like this article, sanitary needs are expensive anyway, without tax!

  26. Lucia Estephane

    Really interesting article, highlights some of the key issues that need to be addressed!

  27. Paven Dhaliwal

    This is a brilliantly true article and i thoroughly agree!

  28. laura mckenzie

    I wholeheartedly agree, I am on the pill because of how bad mine use to get

  29. Besmira Bilali

    This is quite accurate and allows others to visualise the view in th monthly pain some female get

  30. Georgia

    Excellently compressed argument, how ridiculous to be taxed for our gender. How could one even think sanitary products are not essential! And they wonder why we comment on the men in parliament…

  31. Kristina Petrova

    yep yep beautiful stuff

  32. Laura Leadbitter

    I fully agree with this Article. I’m confused why Osborne seems to think Sanitary Products are unessential and should be taxed! I personally think they should be cheaper.

  33. Becky Martin

    I wholeheartedly agree with everything noted in your article. I think it’s atrocious that they want to add tax to sanitary products, especially considering females make up of half the population and its a problem for all of us who have started their periods. If men were the ones who had periods you can guarantee that all sanitary products would probably be free.

  34. Morgan Geddes-ward

    A very good article that makes a good point 🙂

  35. Zucchini

    “women are so extensively sexualised”
    Well, I would disagree with ‘extensively’, however I would agree with *some* degree of sexualisation. However, you are walking a well walked path to nowhere with this, as it always leads to invalidity, because simply, men are also heavily sexualised *everywhere* you see, just like women in most media and such. So to employ it for one side is…invalid.

    “over 80% of a group of 600 females suffered from period pains”
    This is very vague Summer, and worse, heavily misleading. Firstly this could vary from tiny pains to moderate pains, which means it provides little actual information. Secondly, most women I know and have talked about this to, never mention pains at all bad, inconvenient yes, but the term “pain” is probably a little misleading. Looking at a source which you probably referred to, records only 34% as moderate, and 12% as severe. Your argument become *very* lean, very quickly, when cutting out the “extra fat” of misleading information.

    There are some other misleading points and misunderstandings in the article, but I feel other posters have grilled you enough on these.

    However with any pains you possibly have, I hope they do not get you down too often. Myself being male, I do have an odd sense of injustice that one gender got the burden, and not the other.

    Zucchini

    • Victoria Trotman

      I love the way you bring up the issues with her facts or generalisations not the actual point of the article, do you read your newspapers like that?

  36. sinead butler

    sanitation products should not be so heavily taxed! I cant believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer feels this way. its pretty insensitive really.

  37. Alice Duckworth

    I totally agree with this article – everyone please continue to sign the petition.

  38. Laura Coryton

    Thank you Summer Jade Dolan for your amazing support and for raising awareness of our petition (http://goo.gl/wF88dN) – you have made such a difference!! On behalf of all 47,886 of our supporters, we salute you! 🙂

  39. Emma Bramble

    Yet another example of how not having enough women in politics effects 50% of the population, negatively.

  40. Adam Dyson

    “…we could theoretically hobble our way to said shop and then purchase – tax-free – men’s razors, cake decorations, alcoholic dessert jellies, and… wait for it… crocodile steaks”

    Unfortunately, this isn’t a strong arguement at all as to why the 5% tax rate on female sanitary products is a bad idea. All you’ve said is: “If X should be taxed, so should Y, if Y isn’t taxed, X shouldn’t be taxed”. However, I agree that men’s razors, cake decorations, alcoholic dessert jellies and crocodile steaks are NOT essential. As you said yourself, and as I agree, all the things on your list are not even near to being essential. As such, this arguement actually works against the point you’re trying to make.

    Personally, I believe that products should be more logically divided into essential (needed to survive), semi-essential (sanitary items, etc) and non-essential (crocodile steaks, etc). My definition of semi-essential would be- you could live without it, but life would be severely more uncomfortable without it, and would result in bodily, social or psychological harm.

    What does everyone else think of these two points?

    • Summer Dolan

      Hi Adam,
      Thanks for the feedback; it’s always appreciated. I was really simply just trying to get across the ludicrousness that essential, (or as you view them ‘semi-essential’, though some people would argue that the health repercussions of not using sanitary products would definitely make them essential), items such as tampons, pads, etc. are deemed to be less necessary than the steaks, razors, etc. Apologies if that wasn’t coherently executed.
      Again, thanks for the feedback.

      • Adam Dyson

        Summer, allow me to elaborate slightly on my definitions of essential vs semi-essential- humans would have died off by now if they had not had access to fundamental foods. However, sanitary items have only come into existence recently, and therefore cannot be classes as essential. However, I would highly agree that the discomforts and dangers of not having access to sanitation most definitely places it in the semi-essential category.

    • Laura Ferris

      I’m sorry but sanitary products ARE ESSENTIAL. A period is not an optional extra for a woman…and many women cobble together pennies in order to afford the cheapest sanitary products. Sanitary products are as essential as toilet rolls, babies nappies. Sanitary products have ALWAYS existed but just not been mass produced in order to make money from menstruation. Women have not just bled everywhere once a month for the entire human existence, they’ve used fabric scraps fashioned into nappies, placed into pants etc to catch the menses and then cleaned them and reused them. Now I agree that disposable sanitary products may not be essential (though they make many women much more confortable than reusable products) but even reusable sanitary products such as moon cups are taxed. It is a matter of what people accept as essential and luxury, and luxury items are taxed. Safely and hygienically collected and disposing of menstrual blood is NOT a luxury is should be an essential and accessible right for every menstruating woman worldwide.

    • Laura Coryton

      Hello Adam,

      I think what you are trying to do is present a variety of over-complicated, wordy arguments in a poor attempt to undermine the core message of Summer’s great piece of work.

      Firstly, her argument that tax should be relative clearly doesn’t work against her. She is simply highlighting the ludicrous nature of HMRC’s tax allocations and is suggesting that if we exempt menial items from tax on the presumption that they are to be deemed ‘essential’, then denying vital (and very much essential, rather than semi-essential – whatever that was meant to mean) items exemption based on the fact they are to be deemed ‘luxury’ items simply doesn’t make any sense. If tax exemption is based on a scale of essentiality, then logically sanitary products should escape tax with relative ease, especially considering this scale in a seemingly wide one when put into context (which I thought Summer did very well).

      Secondly, ‘semi-essential’ is a contradiction in terms. ‘Essential’ items are those that you can’t function without – are semi-essential items ones that you can sometimes function without but are still vital to the maintenance of your existence? I am not sure this is possible, but presuming it is, then sanitary products would never fit this description. Women simply cannot go without sanitised and safe sanitary products without jeopardising their health, not to mention their participation in the public sphere and enjoyment of a normal, healthy life.

      We never choose to menstruate. We shouldn’t be taxed on this lack of choice.

      • Adam Dyson

        Laura,

        Apologies that my comment has led to your mis-understanding. My intention is to offer feedback and advice to support Summer’s argument, I in no way would want to undermine the message behind this article which I believe is of great importance.

        Saying “If X item isn’t taxed, nor should Y” implies “Y is taxed, therefore X should be too.” I agree that HMRC’s tax allocations are quite ludicrous, but attacking the mechanic is bypassing the strongest and most important point on this issue- the moral implications. Focusing on HMRC’s practices rather than the bigger, over-riding issue focuses on a tiny and unstable aspect, rather than addressing the solid and most important facts.

        I’ve sort of addressed your second point in my previous reply: “…allow me to elaborate slightly on my definitions of essential vs semi-essential- humans would have died off by now if they had not had access to fundamental foods. However, sanitary items have only come into existence recently, and therefore cannot be classed as essential. However, I would highly agree that the discomforts and dangers of not having access to sanitation most definitely places it in the semi-essential category.” Does that help clarify? The names are just ones I made up, so can easily be changed. The idea behind the categorisation is what you should focus on.

        “We never choose to menstruate. We shouldn’t be taxed on this lack of choice.”

        People don’t choose to die either, but there’s still inheritance tax. If your argument is that there shouldn’t be taxes on things we have no choice on, you’re starting to attack a much wider field, a battle which is harder to win. The important thing here is to fix things one at a time, and removing the tax on female sanitation products in one such thing I’m supporting.

  41. Dave

    I have a turd a few times a day but don’t demand tax free toilet paper and soap.

    Get over it.

    • Summer Dolan

      Hi Dave! OP here! Whilst it’s very nice of you to not demand tax free toilet paper, I actually think that a society we SHOULD collectively demand a lack of tax on ALL essentials, including toilet paper. That people who are so elite within society that they deem crocodile meat ‘essential’, are deciding for a population who are by majority, not rich, what is and isn’t essential, is wrong. Just my opinion though! Thanks for commenting!