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Forget The GST On Tampons. Why Aren't They Free?

No woman should have to choose between groceries and tampons.

12/12/2016 10:13 AM AEDT | Updated 12/12/2016 10:51 AM AEDT
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Menstrual hygiene being considered luxury is about as insulting as a tax can get.

Earlier this year, New York unanimously passed legislation that allows female prisoners unrestricted access to hygiene products, such as pads and tampons. Tom Steele, a South Carolinian shock jock, decided to weigh in on the comments page declaring that the previous allowance of "...11 [pads] per month...seems like a lot".

In 2016 it is all rather unbelievable that we're having these debates. Last year Australia debated exempting tampons and pads from the GST. Liberal and Labor decided that they couldn't afford the $30 million that this would save women. And for a lot of women, saving 10 percent on pads and tampons is neither here nor there. But the symbolism grates. Menstrual hygiene being considered luxury is about as insulting as a tax can get.

What would actually make a difference is if women didn't have to bear this economic burden at all.

A very unscientific poll of my facebook friends reveals women spend anywhere between $10 and $35 per month on sanitary items, less if you use a cup, more if you need medication. Doesn't sound like much? That's every month for a large chunk of your life. And that doesn't count days taken off work, study or caring -- silently -- because the pain or side effects are unbearable. And now imagine that financial burden compounding if you have two or more women in your household, supposedly all cycling at the same time.

Right now, I can afford all the pads and tampons I need, and yes, it is more than 11 a period. These days I make my husband go buy them, partly as my own little revenge against the patriarchy and also because I'm usually doubled over in pain and dosed up on meds.

But at one stage in my life it wasn't so easy.

After I got my first part-time job, I wanted to be independent from my parents (well, my Mum, because I couldn't trust my Dad to find the right tampons) so I started buying my own products. Sometimes it was a choice between catching up with friends for a coffee or buying Naprogesic. As students, my girlfriends and I frequently went without certain groceries because it was 'period week'. My male counterparts never had to skip a beer for the same reason.

I cannot imagine the choices single mums, women on Newstart or the Disability Support Pension have to make on their tight budgets. Menstrual hygiene should never have to be one of those choices.

If we are serious about gender equity (and, to be honest, these days I'm not sure we really are) this is a burden women shouldn't be bearing alone. Politicians will tell us that sanitary items aren't expensive. If that's the case, we could easily fund a program to ease the financial burden periods place on half the population.

To be clear, I'm not advocating that tampons and pads be provided to women. I am not queuing up (or my husband) for some rough, government-issued tampons made out of plywood. I want the tampons with the silky lining and the pads with wings (yes men, these marketing 'gimmicks' do actually make a difference). So let's talk tax rebates, supplementary payments, FBIT allowances.

After the men stop getting grossed out about our bodily functions, I'm sure they can work something out. We will then have to fix it, but they are men and men always know better, especially about women's bodies, so they get first go.


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