It is our pleasure to have received this extremely relevant paper from one of our followers, Ashlee Duhamel! She has created this topical piece that discusses menstruation as a taboo, and explores the jovial experience of nursing that-time-of-the-month. We’d also like to commend Ashlee’s ability to create the analogy of a kebab without pitta to a menstruating vagina without a pad. Amazing.
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Dealing with the blood: A luxury or a right?
“Periods; aren’t they a lovely thing? It’s that time of the month where us ladies can run a hot bath, listen to some Coldplay, eat our body weight in chocolate, and treat ourselves to a wedge of synthetic material shoved up our vaginas.
Utter decadence, don’t you think?
Well, the ugly truth is that our periods are costing more than our comfort. Since 2000, the Australian Government has taxed every menstruating female 10% every time we get our period. It is estimated that our periods are earning the government approximately $25 million each year.
Although the money taxed on tampons contributes to building a bigger and better society, the government needs to understand that menstruating is not a luxury and is taxed as opposed to “essential” items; like pitta bread.
Luxury; defined by the Oxford Dictionary as a “state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense”.
This is what our government envisions tampons and sanitary items to be. “Luxury items”.
Women already face the burden of bleeding monthly, and the mere products we require to cope, are not considered essential throughout our country. We, as women, are taught not to speak freely and openly about menstruation because it is an unsettling topic, but also because female anatomy and health is still considered so shocking to our male counterparts.
By not understanding the composition of the female body, our society has become a place where supposed “essential” items for males – such as condoms – are often given out for free, whilst tampons and pads almost never are.
Health clinics are a great example. They provide free condoms, whilst women have to pay 25c in the bathroom – in the same building – to invest in the “luxury” of a tampon. It is devastating that our government benefits one half of the population, yet not the other.
British Labour politician Stella Creasy comments on “tampon tax”, stating “[this] isn’t by accident, it’s by design of an unequal society, in which the concerns of women are not treated as equally as the concerns of men”.
Furthermore, this tax is a violation of human rights; most importantly the right to human dignity.
When questioned about “tampon tax”, Barrack Obama stated that he too, couldn’t understand why menstrual products were taxed. He believes it was because “men were in charge when the laws were passed”.
So, are tampons considered a luxury because they cost so much? Or is it by design of an unfair society? Women can’t just wake up one morning and decide that this month we don’t want to menstruate. It happens; we cannot naturally stop the functioning of our bodies. Males have the choice whether they use protection or shave; yet shaving cream and condoms are both items that are deemed “essential”. Menstrual hygiene should be a right, not a luxury.
Whether a girl’s period becomes the butt of a joke, or else forces a girl in a developing country to drop out of school altogether, the menstruation taboo still stands strong today. This stigmatisation especially affects disadvantaged communities, where resources and education aren’t as readily available to start conversations and shift perceptions.
According to UNICEF and the World Health Organisation, at least 500 million females globally, lack adequate facilities for managing their periods.
In rural India, 1 in 5 girls will drop out of school every week they menstruate because they cannot afford sanitary items. That’s 12 weeks, or 84 days, that young girls are missing out on an education because of taxation.
But this isn’t only an issue in Developing Countries; women are also suffering closer to home. In 2011, there were almost 10,000 homeless women in Victoria; making up about 43 per cent of homeless individuals.
Margo Seibert, founder of Racket, which helps low-income and homeless women get access to sanitary care, says at the shelters she visited, the volunteers shared that “tampons aren’t donated often because they’re so expensive. Two women said that they had stolen tampons in the past because of the costs”. These women were willing to risk being arrested in order to gain their basic human right to sanitation.
Homeless shelters aren’t always adequately stocked with menstrual products, and women on the streets often don’t have easy access to the bathrooms. Instead they use t-shirts or ripped cloth to soak up their blood and prevent staining of the few clothes they own.
Which is less dignified: stealing tampons or not having any at all?
Regressive tax hits low income women and women in developing countries hard. Women cannot choose where they are born, and women who are homeless cannot afford to be paying tax on items they literally need.
Menstrual hygiene is a right, not means to make profit off the vulnerable.
Jaffa cakes, marshmallows, herbal tea, edible cake decorations, pitta bread, helicopters, and crocodile meat. All taxed at 0 per cent or exempt from tax altogether. Surely a tax exemption on tampons is incomparably crucial. Pitta bread; tax-free item, deemed “essential” by the government. Because what is the kebab without that warm piece of pitta bread around it? Lost, unsupported, and left with nothing to catch all its tender meat juices.
But what is a menstruating vagina without its tampon or sanitary pad? Without these products, we are much like a kebab without its pitta bread; lost, unsupported, and with nothing to catch, well, you know what.
Do those in parliament really believe that pitta bread is more essential than products that stop women having to buy new underwear and pants every month?
Menstrual hygiene is universally essential. Pitta bread, not so much.
To summarise; menstruating certainly is not a luxury. It penalises the homeless and shouldn’t be taxed over these “essential” items.
Periods aren’t pretty, and feeling bloated is not desirable. Being curled over in pain for up to 5 days is not something we, as women, look forward to.
So, where do we slice the line of luxury and equality, and who slices it?”
-Ashlee Duhamel, 2017
This text was edited from the original by Grace Hawthorn