The tampon tax is alienating and unnecessary, but we are doing something about it, writes Laura Coryton
The political elite routinely alienates women. From Labour's 'pink bus' designed to 'bring politics to the kitchen table' and attract a new female audience (women tend to exist beyond the kitchen counter) to what Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin described as ‘inherent sexism’ in his own party. Gender biases routinely underpin government policy.
Another infuriating example is the tampon tax. Westminster unashamedly capitalises on our continuous need to purchase tampons, sanitary pads and menstrual cups, and has done so for decades. Since 1973, when the government introduced the tax, these items have been deemed as ‘non-essential’ for women. Presumably every government since has felt the same, as none have ever managed to abolish this tax. The result is that women are unfairly penalised for being women.
Misogyny is not inexplicable. We are up against established systems of oppression that have actively marginalised women. These systems have produced countless examples of everyday misogyny. They have failed women in the workplace (men named John hold more CEO positions than the entire population of women), deepened a culture of sexual violence that predominantly victimises women (of which two will die each week at the hands of their current or former partner and at least one third will inevitably encounter sexual violence at some stage in their lives) and have simultaneously normalised the blaming of women for their experiences of sexual violence (36.8% of rape cases are unsuccessful, often after survivors are asked questions such as: 'but what were you wearing?').
However, activism is alive. In 2014 I launched a petition that has now attracted 277,501 signatures. The result of a number of hard-working campaigners, the Treasury of the United Kingdom recently announced their commitment to axing the tampon tax. Period. This was huge news, and took two years of relentless campaigning to push for. Change on this issue is finally happening and the voices of generations of campaigners are becoming too vocal to sideline.
Our demand is simple. Directed at the European Union (the body responsible for regulating tax across the continent), we want each member state to be granted sovereignty over their ability to reduce tampon tax to the lowest level possible (0% for the UK). Only then will sanitary products join George Osborne's list of ‘essential’ tax-exempt goods and services, which includes the maintenance of private helicopters and jets, the consumption of exotic meats, including horses, crocodiles and kangaroo, and the enjoyment of games such as bingo.
Conservative governments have been notoriously indifferent over issues such as the tampon tax. They simply don't seem to think that it matters. Yet most people thinkthe 0.072% of Britain’s annual revenue that the tampon tax constitutes, and which actively alienates the entire population of women and trans men, doesn’t justify its implementation.
And we’re being heard. To celebrate our campaign's two year anniversary in May 2016 we are marching to the European Union in Brussels to deliver our petition, along with our sister petitions in France, Germany and Italy, where we hope to finally secure the support of the EU to end the tampon tax across the continent. Numbers matter when they equate to passionate voices.