Protests against the EU’s VAT on euphemistically named ‘feminine hygiene products’ have long been headline news, with feminists across Europe rightfully calling out the injustice of a tax on female reproductive organs – not to mention the assertion that sanitary products are luxury items, as if mood swings and bleeding from the vagina every month is a blissful joy that we should all be eternally grateful for.
I’ve largely kept out of this campaigning for a number of reasons (a notable one being how quickly the rhetoric around it becomes incredibly trans-exclusionary*) but when George Osborne announced in this week’s spending review that the 5% ‘tampon tax’ would now be diverted into funding women’s charities, I couldn’t help but get a bit worked up about the unfairness of it all (maybe I was jut being luxuriously hormonal). Here’s some quick thoughts on why.
- The manipulation
I’ve long begrudgingly defended George Osborne as one of Parliament’s most talented albeit abhorrent politicians, and this is exactly why – because it’s genius, really. Oppose tampon tax and you now oppose funding for women’s services. You don’t think the tax is fair? But what about the women using health and support services? Don’t you support them? Yeah, thought so. You should think about that while you go back to bask in the luxury of aches, hot flushes and expelling your shredded womb lining for 4 days every month.
2. The uncertainty
It’s EU tax rules which dictate the tax on sanitary products, and in a sort-of win for the campaign against it, Prime Minister David Cameron has already said he supports the abolishment of the tax. So, assuming the EU are taking heed of protests in a number of European countries, as well as the support for them from leaders, and assuming the protestors keep up the momentum – what happens to the women’s services being funded by it if the tax is eventually abolished?
3. The blatant inequality
If we accept that the inherent inequality of the tampon tax comes from an arbitrary levy on uteri, then really this policy goes one better, because it literally says that people with a uterus should pay for their own vital healthcare and support, simply because of their aforementioned uterus. Born without one and your life is an all-you-can-eat buffet of state-funded healthcare and support services – but win the womb lottery and not only will you be more likely to face violence, but you can pay for your own support when you do, too. What’s not to love?
And what of trans and non-binary people in amongst all this? Well, trans men and non-binary people who menstruate are now funding women’s services which they may not be able to access, while women who don’t menstruate aren’t funding services they rightfully should be able to use. When you consider that the intersectionality ignored by the tampon tax means that trans people are disproportionately likely to face sexual violence, you can see that the lazy gender binary reinforced by this policy helps nobody – least of all those who need the services at its centre the most.
4. The injustice
Related to the point above is the fact that siphoning off ‘women’s money for women’s issues’ not only reinforces a fictional binary, but also ignores the fact that violence against women (including trans women) is largely a cis men’s issue. Now not only can men get a tax break on the violence they inflict on women at an epidemic level, they can also inflict it without worrying that their victims will incur any extra state spending! Result!
5. The irony
Why is it that the Government find themselves scrambling around looking for funding for these services anyway? Why are these healthcare and support services in such a dire state that almost 50% of all rape crisis centres are in danger of shutting down within a year? Why is it that Eaves just had to close its door, not one month ago? Why is it that a third of all referrals to Women’s Aid centres are turned away because of a lack of space?
The Chancellor’s austerity cuts disproportionately hitting women, you say? The same Chancellor proposing we now fund our own healthcare and support services, you mean? Oh.
6. The inadequacy
Hiding in amongst all the other debate around this policy is the simple fact that the tampon tax generates £15 million a year. Which, put frankly, is not anywhere near enough to fund women’s health and support services in a society where more than half of the population are likely to need them. If you find it hard to contextualise such a number, just remember that Ian Duncan Smith this year splashed out a cool £8.5 million of taxplayers’ money on a fluffy ‘workplace pensions’ monster. As if his brutal welfare cuts weren’t scary enough already.
So George, you probably think you’ve played a blinder with this one, but I think you’ve been left with blood on your hands. You see, I agree that women’s services should have their funding increased and secured – because of the ruthless and devastating cuts you’ve inflicted on them which have left them vulnerable and unable to support those who need them. I too long for a society where such services don’t need to be funded by the state – because they shouldn’t be needed at all, not because they’re niche or of special interest. I also believe we need to see violence against women as a gendered issue – because it’s one that is perpetrated and sustained by men, and is therefore very much their problem too.
So thanks but no thanks. Until we see the EU’s male population stockpiling tampons and sanitary towels on a monthly basis in an act of solidarity, I’ll keep on opposing any policy which uses blood money to perpetuate misogyny at a state level.
*I’ve tried to make sure that this blog uses inclusive language but if you notice anything dodgy then please let me know and I’ll change it!