What do Kenya and Australia have in common? When it comes to enlightened attitudes to periods, not a lot it seems. The Kenyan government has just said it will offer all schoolgirls free sanitary pads. A few days earlier, the Australian government moved in the opposite direction, refusing to exempt period products from a new tax on low value goods and services.
Whereas Australia and other tampon tax nations see sanitary protection as an indulgent luxury, Kenya has seen the impact on girls’ lives when these products are absent. According to a UN agency, one in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their period. Some girls lose 20% of their education once they being menstruating, causing them to drop out of school altogether in many cases.
In truth, the girls don’t leave the house when they’re bleeding and have no protection. When it is put that starkly, the idea that sanitary protection is a luxury becomes laughable. It is an essential for menstruating girls and women to leave the home, complete their education and engage in the workplace.
In the UK, the tampon tax was almost axed in 2016, but is still clinging on until it’s finally due to get the chop in 2018. The revenue it generates is being directed towards shelters for women fleeing domestic violence, which initially feels good, until you start to wonder why women are paying to counter the effects of male abuse.
In fact campaigns are afoot in the UK not only to do away with the ‘luxury’ tax but also to offer free sanitary pads to schoolgirls in need in the UK, after shocking stories of period poverty emerged this year. Girls in deprived areas of the UK were finding themselves in the same predicament as those in sub saharan Africa, improvising with makeshift rags or even missing school.
Tireless campaigners such as Laura Coryton and Amika George in the UK, and many other pioneering women around the world are working for change and making their voices heard. Martha Silcott, founder of FabLittleBag, recently spoke at an event with these period warriors, organised by the Social Change Agency, giving a talk about how the taboo around the subject contributes to period poverty and emotional issues.
Abolishing these punitive taxes would be a fantastic way to disperse the stigma and #screwthetaboo. Let’s hope our daughters grow up in a world where they can gasp at the absurdity of a ‘luxury’ sanitary pad and that more of the world, both rich and poor, will follow the example of the enlightened Kenyans.