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Goodbye tampon tax, hello female empowerment

Whilst 2021 hasn’t been exactly what we were hoping for so far, it’s not all doom and gloom. As of January 1 2021, the tampon tax in the UK was officially abolished – that’s right, women are no longer being taxed for being women! It really is the little things (I guess). 

Perhaps it seems a small feat, but by no means was it easy, as tampon tax has been around since 1973 and the road to abolishing this discriminatory tax has been a long one. Here’s a brief history of just how long it took to reach where we are today:

In 1973, the UK joined the European Union and VAT was introduced for “luxury goods”…and tampons (clearly a luxury). Initially taxed at 10% VAT, it soon rose to 17.5% by 1991. 

MP Dawn Primarolo lobbied for a reduction back in 2000 and again in January 2001 following debates in parliament and a lengthy campaign. She managed to achieve a reduced rate of 5% – which was the lowest possible rate under the EU’s laws. (I know, still 5% for the luxury of having a period?!)

This absurdity led to Laura Coyton in 2014 to begin her own campaign in hopes of abolishing tampon tax once and for all. Her change.org petition reached over 300,000 signatures forcing David Cameron, the prime minister of the time, to place pressure on the EU. Whilst under EU law it couldn’t be abolished immediately, all was not lost as a positive movement was incited within the UK. 

As of Autumn 2015, it was agreed that the £15 million earned from VAT on sanitary products each year would be donated to women’s charities (or so we hope!). 

Tesco was the first supermarket to pay tampon tax on behalf of its customers in 2017 and Waitrose soon followed suit. 

And then here we are today…2021…and Britain’s end to being part of the EU meant the tax has been completely cut. 

So, what does this mean for women? How much are they saving? 

The government estimates that the tax cut will save an average of 7p on a pack of 20 tampons and 5p on a pack of 12 sanitary pads. Over a lifetime, it estimates this will add up to be in the region of a £40 saving.

Okay, so we’re not going to be particularly rich, but the real victory of this campaign is the effect it has had and will continue to have on women, not just in the UK but all around the world.

Coryton’s campaign forced the UK government to stand up not only to this tax but to the wider problem of period poverty in the UK and begin their own wider initiative to end this. This saw sanitary products becoming free in Scotland and free in schools and colleges in England. 

Additionally, not only did the campaign achieve change for British women, but it also incited a movement that has spread globally and there are now either successful and/or active campaigns in every continent. Some notable success stories occurred in Germany, Australia, Canada and India to name a few. 

This discriminatory tax is gradually disappearing from our world, and with it, the essence of an age-old taboo around women’s periods. The campaign, other than its effect on price, has increased equality for women and become a symbol of women having the ability (and the right, no less) to empower change. 

Laura Coryton, now 27, discussed in her 2020 Ted Talk how the success of the movement wouldn’t have been possible without the online petition. Change.org states that the majority of their petitions are started by men although the majority of successful petitions are started by women having been mainly shared by women. This is true of Coryton’s petition, as it was through this online medium her campaign truly gained gravitas. 

In the physical world, women are still very much outnumbered by men in positions of power with more men named John than total women combined as CEOs of any FTSE 100 companies. However, in the online-sphere women can actively group together, thus empowering one another to achieve change; this is how women like Laura Croyton succeeded in abolishing the tampon tax.

Therefore, the abolition of the tampon tax truly calls for celebration, (not too large as you don’t want to spend your 5p saving all at once!). It symbolises not only female equality but more importantly, female empowerment on a global scale.

Image: Rafał Szczawiński via Unsplash