November 7th, 2019 was a big day for Germany, as its Bundestag, or parliament, ruled on changing the classification of tampons and other menstrual products from “luxury goods” to items “necessary for everyday life”. This change to “necessity items” will lower the tax rate for these products from 19% to 7%, and will take effect in January 2020. This is a big step for Germany, as countries all over the world are feeling immense pressure to follow through with protests and petitions demanding lower taxation for female sanitation products. The first country to see the change through was Kenya in 2004, noting that the majority of the women in their country simply could not afford to buy these products on a monthly basis. Canada, Australia, India and Malaysia have since followed their lead.
This movement is turning up the heat for other countries, with places such as Denmark and Hungary far behind. This past week, the Italian government followed Germany’s lead and lowered the tax on female sanitation products from 22% to 10%, following a heavy criticism in January regarding its 2019 budgetary decisions. Included in these decisions was a tax decrease in black truffles to 5%, while keeping the tax of tampons at a high 22%. Other aspects of the budget went under scrutiny as well, since items such as cigarettes, wine, cut flowers and pet goldfish were being taxed as “necessity” items around the country.
Considering the overall cost for women buying tampons and pads on a monthly basis, which accumulates to roughly €5,000 for the duration of a woman’s fertility years, there is no question as to why there has been outrage all around the world. As the influencers of the German tampon tax movement, Yasemin Kotra and Nanna- Josephine Roloff, explain, “the higher tax rate on these products amounts to fiscal discrimination of women, based on their sex, which is not allowed by the Constitution”. Meanwhile, when considering similarly-taxed products for men, researchers argue there is no equivalent product for men that can compare to feminine hygiene products. However, in Italy, while female sanitation products are taxed at 10%, items such as men’s razors are taxed at only 4%.
These recent changes in governmental policy spark up an interesting conversation regarding the progress (or lack-thereof) of gender equality all over the world. As women right’s advocates are speaking up more than ever around the world, it will be interesting to see whether this policy change in Germany will be enough to spark a rapid movement throughout different countries regarding gender equality and the importance of affordable sanitation products for women across the globe.
By Daniela Ballve