While taxes are regarded as a necessary evil to ensure the proper functioning of government and safeguard civil liberties, certain forms of taxation are simply unjustifiable. One especially problematic example is the taxation of menstrual hygiene products, such as tampons.
This is arguably one of the most unfair taxes in existence as it not only exacerbates gender inequality by treating menstrual health as a luxury or choice rather than a basic necessity, but it also disproportionately affects low-income individuals, and thus should be urgently rectified.
While some countries like Kenya, the United Kingdom, India, and several U.S. states have already eliminated the tampon tax, there are still numerous countries that impose significant taxes on menstrual hygiene products.
For instance, Hungary has a tax rate of 27 percent, while Denmark and Sweden have rates of 25 percent. Finland and Iceland have a rate of 24 percent. It is disheartening to see that the Croatian government has refused to even reduce the value-added tax (VAT) on period products, exacerbating the issue further.
Women are disproportionately burdened by taxes on feminine hygiene items like tampons. Taxing such products is unfair because women have no choice but to buy them frequently. The tampon tax undermines gender equality and creates financial hardships, especially for low-income people who may already find it difficult to afford these products.
During times of crisis, such as recessions or pandemics, when financial pressures are heightened, the situation can turn dire for many. A study conducted by Plan International UK before the COVID-19 pandemic found that 1 in 10 girls could not afford menstrual sanitary products. Considering the subsequent economic hardship caused by the pandemic and its devastating effects, it would not be unreasonable to speculate that this number increased further at that time.
With little financial resources, allocating funds for medicines, protective equipment like masks, and menstrual hygiene products can be very difficult for women with low incomes. Indeed, this can seriously compromise their health. A tax on such necessities exacerbates the situation and places more people in a vulnerable position.
Tampons are not a luxury and must not be taxed as such
Taxes on luxury products or on harmful substances like cigarettes or alcoholic beverages will often be argued for on the grounds that they are not necessities. In the case of luxury products, proponents make the case that the taxes only target wealthy people who can afford them.
For substances with negative health implications, the argument is that taxes help lower consumption. However, menstrual hygiene products are neither luxuries nor harmful substances to be discouraged — they are indispensable for maintaining menstrual hygiene.
Moreover, both tariffs and taxes on harmful substances serve as a great example of the harmful effects that tampon taxes can have.
Why do governments impose taxes on tobacco and alcohol or tariffs on imported goods? The answer is simple: they wish to lower the consumption of these products. Imposing a tax on them makes these products more expensive and thus more difficult to purchase.
A tax on period products has a similar effect. It makes such hygiene products unaffordable for some women and burns a significant hole in the pockets of many more. This can lead to adverse consequences such as compromised health among women living in poverty.
Why the tampon tax is fundamentally regressive
Sales taxes like those on tampons are fundamentally regressive in nature. They disproportionately affect poorer people. Although, in theory, sales taxes apply to everyone equally, they actually take a much larger share of lower-income people’s income.
To illustrate this, let’s look at two people, one making $20,000 a year and the other making $200,000 yearly. If the sales tax rate is 10 percent and both people spend $5,000 on taxable goods, the lower-income person would pay $500 in sales tax or 2.5 percent of their yearly income. The higher-earning person would shell out the same $500 in sales tax, which amounts to just 0.25 percent of their annual income.
This gap demonstrates the regressive character of sales taxes, which impose a higher cost on individuals with lower incomes relative to their income.
Low-income households spend a larger part of their income on essentials, including food, clothing, and other essential supplies. Taxing the sale of these necessities worsens the financial hardship these individuals face.
While it can be argued that taxes are necessary to keep a country functioning, taxes on necessities such as menstrual hygiene products, which put a financial strain on women, especially low-income women, is not a fair form of taxation.
Ultimately, taxing menstrual hygiene products implies that women’s health needs are not considered a priority. While many countries exempt essential goods from taxation, menstrual products are often overlooked. This oversight hinders the advancement of gender equality and supports the idea that women’s health and well-being are not as important as men’s.
The injustice of the tampon tax, along with the negative implications it carries, show us why it needs to be scrapped.
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