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Still a long way to go, period

  • 16 November 2018


On 3 October 2018, the states and territories of Australia put an end to an eighteen year campaign by agreeing to remove the goods and services tax (GST) from menstrual products. Items like condoms and Viagra have been exempt from the GST since its implementation in 2000, but there has been an ongoing fight to apply this same exemption for items like pads and tampons. It has been raised and shut down a number of times since, including once in 2018. 

It is, as Senator Janet Rice stated in 2015, ‘a sexist and unfair tax’, and it is interesting to note that many of the politicians opposed to scrapping the tax have been cisgender men. In March 2018, Tony Abbott commented that removing the tax would be caving into ‘political correctness’, and Tanya Plibersek’s response, ‘only a bunch of blokes sitting around a table would come to the conclusion that sanitary pads are anything but an essential good,’ was a sentiment that many in Australia could agree with.

The taxing of menstrual items is not only an issue in Australia, but also in numerous countries around the world. Period poverty is a very real phenomenon that affects a whole range of menstruators, including asylum seekers, those who are homeless, live in third world countries and in rural communities, and who are escaping from domestic violence.

A survey conducted in 2017 by Plan International UK found that one in ten girls or women aged 14 to 21 in Britain cannot afford sanitary items. There have been pushes for the adoption of reusable menstrual products like luna cups, washable cloth pads and period underwear, but many of these products are still expensive at the outset, and presume the user has access to clean water and washing facilities.

Uteruses, and in particular, periods, have long been used against menstruators — to malign, to marginalise, to make us feel lesser than. In ancient Greece, it was thought that the uterus (hysterika) was able to travel throughout the body, and that a wandering uterus was a sign of mental illness. The word hysteria has been used since then to minimise the severity of women’s mental health issues. Indeed, the term ‘hysterical neurosis’ was used as late as the second edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association. Pliny the Elder thought that a menstrual blood could kill insects, blunt the edge of