opinion

OPINION: 'We need to reinstate the tampon tax. Here's why.'

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Since the axe of the tampon tax in 2019, the Australian government has lost approximately $35 million a year in revenue. 

And with COVID-19's continuing impact on the Australian economy, now is the perfect time for the government to reinstate the tax and invest in the future of Aussie women and girls.  

Historically, tampons and pads were taxed as luxury goods and were not considered an area of healthcare. But in 2019, the Morrison government scrapped the 10 per cent tax on pads, tampons, and a selection of other feminine hygiene products. 

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Upon first glance, the exemption appears to be a progressive and practical piece of legislation. But what seems to be a win for women's rights, is merely symbolic. The exemption does not address the harsh realities of period poverty in Australia.

Each month in Australia, up to 1 million people who menstruate struggle to access sanitary products due to financial constraints. 

This issue, known as period poverty, prevents a woman from managing her periods hygienically and with dignity.

As a result, some women and girls resort to unfriendly alternatives such as toilet paper, newspaper, socks, and even old rags.

Such substitutes are becoming more common as COVID-19 continues to push people into poverty. Currently, 1 in 10 of those who menstruate worldwide cannot afford menstrual products, a figure steadily worsening amid the pandemic.

With more than 800 million people menstruating daily, a lack of access to menstrual products can disrupt everyday life. Most commonly, improper feminine hygiene can interrupt school attendance and performance, employment attainment and social participation.

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Groups most susceptible to experiencing period poverty include adolescent girls and women from low to middle-income backgrounds, Indigenous Australians and those residing in rural or remote communities.

But even in developing nations, almost 30 per cent of girls prematurely leave school once they start menstruating.

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New Zealand records that one in five women have missed school or work due to inaccessibility to menstrual products.

Beyond our shores, Scotland became the first country in the world in 2020 to make pads and tampons free for anyone in need. 

Along with Australia, nations such as Canada, Kenya, Uganda, and India have abolished sales tax on menstrual hygiene products, while Zimbabwe subsidises local manufacturers. The Kenyan government also provides funding for pads in schools.

At the state level, Victoria, South Australia, and Queensland are proactively addressing period poverty as the serious health and economic issue it is. 

Victoria became the first state or territory in Australia to provide free menstrual items in public schools in 2019, followed by South Australia early in 2021. And, Queensland has promised to introduce free tampons and pads in schools. 

The federal response to period poverty in wider Australia must mirror that of Victoria and South Australia.

The government must reinstate the GST on menstrual products with the revenue used to supply free pads and tampons in secondary schools.

Crucially, a GST must be as broadly-based as possible to maximise the revenue to be reinvested for social purposes. 

Exempting a box of tampons from the tax reduces the average price from $5.65 to $5.15, saving women and girls of low socioeconomic status merely 50 cents on a product that is already financially out of their reach.  

The reapplication of the tampon tax would maximise student attendance, alleviate the stresses of affording period products, and promote menstrual health. 

In turn, people who menstruate can live free of period poverty, be successful in their education and career, and ultimately strengthen our economy. 

After all, periods are a natural process and access to sanitary pads and tampons should never be a barrier to living a healthy, productive, and meaningful life.

Feature Image: Getty.