No one likes to talk about periods, and it’s costing us millions.
According to Jill Piebak, leader of the No Tax on Tampons campaign, in 2014 the government collected more than $36 million from the taxation of menstrual hygiene products.
She’s leading a petition on Change.org and trying to table a private member’s bill to nix the tax on tampons, but politicians have thus far been unwilling to engage in debate or champion this cause. It reflects an attitude that exists outside of the House of Commons, and affects women across the country.
The necessity of menstrual products is easily overlooked in a country like Canada, where it’s assumed everyone has access to them. In some countries, access to clean, comfortable (relatively speaking) menstrual products is a luxury of the rich. But just because we can walk into any grocery store and buy a box of Tampax doesn’t mean the cost isn’t an unavoidable burden to some. The added burden of taxation on a subsection of society already making less on average than their male counterparts is insupportable.
But periods aren’t something we like to acknowledge. The Winnipeg Free Press wrote a story about a food bank receiving nearly 7,000 requests for menstrual products this past January. They were only able to fulfill 125 of them. Donations at food banks often include toiletries, but they are more likely to receive toothbrushes than tampons. The cost of menstrual products is a burden on par with food and other medical expenses.
Even if you aren’t in dire financial need, being taxed on a necessary product is bizarre. The distinctions between what is and isn’t taxed are difficult to sort out, though they certainly help accountants stay employed. In general though, necessary food and medical supplies are not taxed, but there is ongoing debate about what exactly is a necessity. For example, you can claim your prescription eyeglasses and medical marijuana on your tax return, but not a blood pressure monitor.
Most of the medical items you can’t claim improve quality of life, but aren’t necessary. Condoms, for example, have great benefit for reducing sexually transmitted infections and preventing unwanted pregnancy. However, no one necessarily needs to have sex, no one is required to have protected sex to get on with their day-to-day life, and there are other birth control methods available. The use of menstrual products, on the other hand, isn’t something anyone who has to go out in public should be considering a choice.
It’s something we may not like to talk about, but we must. The cost is not going away and it is entirely tied to gender. Not every woman menstruates, but every woman should be concerned when a bodily function that affects only women is taxed and discussion is ignored and shut down.
In 2004, Member of Parliament Judy Wasylycia-Leis introduced a bill addressing “gender-based taxation,” while MP Irene Mathyssen introduced Bill C-282 to address the same issue in 2011 and 2013 without any impact on taxation.
How can we be a country that claims to be committed to equality when we have a government that taxes products only needed by women for a normal bodily function? We have a government that allows tax exemptions for wedding cakes, but not Diva Cups, and has thus far refused to discuss the dissonance.
Piebak is continuing to collect signatures until April 27 and intends to present her petition in the House of Commons on May 1. This is an opportunity to stop pretending the taxation of menstrual products is a supportable practice, and a chance to stop pretending periods will go away if we just ignore them.
No matter how hard you try to plug up the conversation, it all has to come out eventually.