The tampon tax has never really been about tampons

Two women dancing. Rock engraving from the Upper Yule River, Pilbara, Western Australia.

Commentary by Cee Smith

The tampon tax has never been about tampons.

It began as a neat summation of the sexism that still exists in society.

A perfect flag for feminism inspiring bold and blatant bloody forms of protest.

Cee Smith
Cee Smith

Above all, it started conversations. Conversations about alternative sanitary products, ways to handle pain, unusual discharges, contraception. There felt a collective sigh of relief as more and more young women started admitting, yes actually I am on my period.

But for party politics the tampon tax wasn’t about starting a conversation. It’s a petty game and almost a hollow victory.

The SNP claimed it first, last week, with Alison Thewliss MP calling it a ‘major victory’ for the party.

David Cameron gave his approval, claiming his party wouldn’t stand in the way of the amendment to end the tax.

Jeremy Corbyn is the latest as he claims ‘another Labour victory’ over the budget with the abolition of the 5% tax on sanitary items.

Meanwhile, the EU question has appeared in Tory ‘rebellions’ over the fact that the government had to ask the European Commission for permission to end it in the first place.

What felt like passing the buck to avoid confrontation on the subject has suddenly become a different game.

Should the EU have control over how we tax the country? Do the EU have control or is it still a cop-out from the government? Do we want to be in or out?

What has this got to do with my period?

Absolutely nothing.

At least, to give credit where it is due, Thewliss does give the victory to women before taking any for her party`; to the ‘tens of thousands’ of women in fact, who had campaigned and petitioned their MPs to get the topic on the table.

It will be these women, and others, who carry on the fight.

Alison Thewliss MP
Alison Thewliss MP

The politics will play on and there will still be women who cannot afford the sanitary items in the first place. There will still be the embarrassment and shame associated with periods. A lack of education and availability.

There will still be profits to be made from our bodily functions and needs.

Thewliss described ‘standing in front of dozens of middle aged, male Tory MPs and talking about periods’ as not being one of the easiest speech she had to make.

I’m sure that’s something of an understatement for her and the other women MPs who did the same thing.

Just as it’s not an easy subject for many to broach in everyday conversation.

But the best way to abolish taboos (and taxes) is to keep having frank, honest discussions about our periods, about our bodies and how we live our daily lives.

If the tampon tax was never about our periods, then let’s extend the parameters ourselves.

This won’t be the last awkward speech we have to make.

While ‘I’m on my period’ may be the abrupt end to many an argument, this time let’s keep the conversation flowing.