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It’s time to talk about tampons, taxes and taboo

By in Opinions

Feminine hygiene products are vital when it comes to dealing with periods and a lack of access to them can be detrimental. Until recently, tampons and other feminine hygiene products were considered non-essential, contributing to the stigma that surrounds menstruation.

As of July 1, 2015, Canada’s federal government will be removing the GST from feminine hygiene products including tampons, pads, menstrual cups, sanitary wipes and other menstrual products. Thanks to a petition on change.org with over 74,000 signatures from  people across Canada, the movement was pushed forward at an ever-escalated rate.

While it’s no surprise to anyone, the topic of menstrual cycles and natural bodily functions remains relatively undiscussed, as people tend to become uncomfortable with just the mention of a period.

Our society is quick to sell the female body like some sort of mass-produced commodity. While over-sexualized and objectified women grace the covers of magazines, ads, movie posters and more, people are still weird about periods.

While this everyday objectification barely phases the masses, the mere mention of someone bleeding from shedding the lining of their uterus freaks people out. Something that happens to over half the adult population of the world  is seen as abnormal and even an inappropriate topic to bring up in discussion. The society we live in continues to stigmatize something that is a completely natural and fundamental function.   

While menstruation is a basic part of bodily functions, we are often made to feel ashamed and embarrassed about it. From a young age, we are taught that it’s not an open subject to discuss. Why else would we find the most obscure places to hide our tampons so that no one will see them as we scurry off to the bathroom to change it, or shy away from acknowledging the fact that we have our period at all?

The result of charging GST on feminine hygiene products is gendered taxation. One half of the population should not have to pay a tax on a product that the other half doesn’t even have to worry about purchasing. A woman will spend upwards of $1000 on these products during the average 37 years she menstruates.

By taxing these products, the government makes money off of a bodily function that occurs completely naturally. Gendered taxation in Canada is discriminatory as people all over the country are forced to purchase these products at a taxation rate of 5 per cent GST in addition to other sales taxes.

Why should women alone be charged for something that they have no control over? Menstrual products are a crucial part of living a healthy life.

This kind of taxation works to disadvantage women on a financial level and worsens the situations of many women when factors such as race, sexuality and class are considered, as they must be.

There are many people who have a difficult time accessing these products, due largely to the fact that they are so expensive and not always considered a necessity. Feminine hygiene products can be taken for granted when they are easily available to you on your weekly grocery run, but many are not so lucky.

A group that stands out in their progressive stance on this issue is the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union Women’s Centre, which provides free menstrual products in their office in the Memorial Union Building for anyone in need.

The centre also hosts a Menstrual Drive, where people can donate different menstrual products — preferably reusable ones like diva cups or cloth pads, which are also good for the environment! These menstrual products are then donated to the Saskatoon Food Bank in order to provide feminine hygiene for those who need it.

While those of us with periods could take a stand and just let it flow to demonstrate our need for these products, I think it’s safe to say that it would be easier and a little less messy if we all came to our senses and acknowledged the bias in taxing gendered products.

Next step — free tampons?

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