Period pains: Not just the cramps

Menstruation is a pain, and anyone who menstruates can attest to this. This is not just because of the cramps and back pains, but also due to the tax on the products needed to absorb the flow of blood.

Only recently has Canada passed a bill to abolish the sales tax on feminine care products. In Canada taxes are applied to products that are considered “non-essential”. Up until July 1st, 2015 having products that prevented blood from dripping down one’s leg was not considered essential.

While this abolition of sales tax is amazing news, the time it took for this bill to go through the system is stunning. The first bill was introduced by MP Judy Wasylicia-Leis in 2004.  This bill took 11 years and three amendments to finally abolish the tax on feminine hygiene products. With the passing off that bill Canada joins Ireland, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Lebanon in the lack of sales tax on pads and tampons. However, all these countries still have import duty tax. This means that though consumers don’t have to pay extra tax, the products is still treated as an object of luxury. All commodities have an import duty tax placed on them, with the exception of certain items found in duty-free stores in airports. So if luxury items such as candy and alcohol can be bought tax-free why is that items necessary for a safe and hygienic life are being taxed?. The only country that has abolished both taxes is Kenya. Because of how tough conditions are in Kenya, the government sometimes hands out pads and tampons.

An article written by Frances Woolley for the Globe and Mail analyzes the tax removal. She lends a view on how the tax from feminine hygiene products aids in lowering other expenses the government makes. She argues that by removing the tax, lower income feminine hygiene product users will have fewer tax breaks.  Wooley’s basic argument is that an affluent woman can afford to pay GST on a box of pads, which in turn allows that GST money to be transferred to a low-income woman to buy a box of tampons. She also brings up the fact that currently fewer women are having periods because of the increased popularity of IUD’s, so economically targeting the tampon tax is an unnecessary move in the current socio economic reality.

Though Woolley expresses an economist’s point of view that is not popular in feminist circles, the issue of inequality must not be overlooked. Having a period is not a voluntary action and a large number of individuals who have periods agree the tax is unjust. Condoms, for example, though purchased by women target a mainly male market. While women are being taxed for their natural bodily functions, men do not have to pay a tax to have safe sex since male condoms are considered a drug and are therefore not taxed. The systemic inequality and sexism here are clear: sexism exists in things as simple as basic toiletries. Thankfully due to protests and legal actions, the “period tax” has been lifted, which is a step toward a less sexist consumer market in Canada.