Earlier this year, the Lawyers Club of San Diego’s LC News included an article I wrote entitled, “A Blood Feud for Equity,” regarding menstrual equity. In that article, I alluded to the struggle women face when it comes to the cost of managing their menstrual cycles. On a daily average, 800,000,000 women globally have a period. 500,000,000 of them cannot afford products to help with something so natural and uncontrollable. A major roadblock for some of these women is the tampon tax placed on menstrual products. Some countries, like Slovakia, have a tax rate on sanitary products of 20% (note, when this law went into effect, Slovakia was under a communist regime, yet no efforts since have been made to lower this tax). Other countries have made positive changes to the tax on menstrual products, like Germany, where they lowered their 19% “luxury tax” to 7% in 2020. As of 2019, the worst offender was Hungary, where women pay a 27% tax on menstrual products. However, very few countries have realized the strain of the tax and took a large step forward by removing this tax altogether.
In 2004, Kenya was the first to eliminate their tampon tax. Soon after, countries like the UK, Canada, India, Australia, Jamaica, Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Ireland, and a handful of others have eliminated the tax altogether. But – if you are looking to never worry about a 40-year tax (rough estimate of how long women menstruate), then look no further than Scotland! Last November, Scotland became the world’s first country to make menstrual products completely free. Yes, free! There is now a legal duty imposed in Scotland on local authorities to ensure that sanitary pads and tampons are free to anyone who needs them. What a concept!
Unfortunately, here in the US, we are struggling to compete. Only a handful of states in the US have eliminated this tax; Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, Nevada, Oregon, and Alaska. Here in California, AB-31 eliminated the tax until 2024. It’s a great start, but it expires every two years. Menstrual products are still not considered “necessity of life” items and if no bill stays in place, a “luxury tax” will be reinstated on such products. If you look at the big picture, things like candy and Viagra are considered necessities, making such items exempt from this unnecessary taxing. It is estimated that California makes approximately $33.4 million a year from people who naturally have a period. We must do better.
The tampon tax should be eliminated, and countries like Ireland and Scotland have proven this is an achievable milestone. The tax on menstrual products is unfair and prejudicial towards women, because women are the ones who menstruate. There is a tale that when Marie Antoinette learned some of her subjects were unable to afford bread, she snubbed her nose at them and said, “Let them eat cake,” showing her obliviousness to the conditions and daily lives of ordinary people. Anne Kuhlmann, an associate professor in the College for Public Health and Social Justice at St. Louis University said tampons are a need, “[They] affect a woman’s sense of self, her sense of dignity and her ability to participate in life.” By allowing women to be hindered over something as basic as a tampon, governments are effectively saying, “Let HER eat cake.”
Alexandria Hopson is a 3L at Thomas Jefferson and active member on the Advocacy of Reproductive Justice Committee.