What’s more essential: menstrual products or maraschino cherries?
In Canada, the government charges a sales tax on tampons, pads, Diva cups, and other menstrual products. This adds about 5% to their total cost. For Canadians, this feels pretty normal; this tax is added to many things we buy.
But if you look closer, you’ll find something interesting: Canadian tax law considers some items “essential” and some items “nonessential.” The federal government does not collect tax on the essential items. Contact lenses and adult diapers? Essential. Cocktail cherries, chocolate chips, and wedding cakes? Also essential. Maxi pads and tampons? Not essential.
I like a well-garnished cocktail as much as anyone, but I’d rather have a pad.
Imagine life without these “nonessentials.” Imagine having your period, and going out in public without using menstrual products. Imagine going to your job! I don’t know what your dress code is like, but ours doesn’t actually doesn’t allow for large, slowly-spreading stains or drips of blood rolling down your legs.
The last time I got my period, I managed to get blood on my shoe without noticing. Imagine the walking biohazard I would become without my "nonessential” menstrual products.
Activists in Canada, Australia and the UK are campaigning to end this gender-based tax discrimination. (The Australian campaign wins the prize for the most puns. My favourite is “there’s no womb in society for a tampon tax.”)
In Canada, the movement is lead by a group called Canadian Menstruators. On January 26, 2015, Kathleen Fraser and Jill Piebiak (the duo behind Canadian Menstruators) started a petition to raise awareness of this unfair tax.
Over 60,000 people signed the online version of Fraser's and Piebiak’s petition. Now, they’re encouraging Canadians to sign and mail in hard copies, so that it can appear before lawmakers in Canada’s House of Commons.
Fraser explains: “MP Irene Mathyssen introduced Bill C-282, An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act (feminine hygiene products), in 2013, and this petition is in support of that bill. It’s a private member's bill, so it's unlikely to become law unless we can demonstrate how important it is to Canadian citizens and encourage our government to bring the bill to a second reading. That's our goal with the paper petitions.”
Piebiak continues, “It will be up to the government to decide the next steps but we will continue to advocate to remove this tax.”
I asked Fraser and Piebiak what they’re learned from this experience (aside from the national importance of maraschino cherries).
“It's been a really valuable learning experience for me, to consider the impact that unfair legislation has on Canadians and to see the willingness of Canadians to engage with their government and rally behind causes they care about,” Fraser wrote, explaining that "it had never occurred to me that I could actually do anything about it until Jill suggested this petition. The campaign has taught me how crucial it is for Canadian citizens to tell our government what matters to us and demand to be a part of the political conversation.”
“I've learned so much launching this campaign,” said Piebiak. “I think the most important lesson is that you need to seek out your allies and supporters as they motivate you to continue working. Knowing that there were so many people who agreed with our campaign was the best motivation.”
- Do you think menstrual products should be taxed?
- Has anyone figured out a way to menstruate that doesn’t involve “nonessential” menstrual products?
- Marashcino cherries are gross, right? Does anyone actually like them?