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By: Suzy Flader
As of July 1, Canadians no longer have to pay federal tax on menstrual hygiene products. This decision came in response to an online petition titled “No Tax for Tampons,” which received over 75,000 signatures.
While items like wedding cakes and cocktail cherries had gone untaxed in Canada, necessary menstrual hygiene products have been unfairly subjected to a five percent “luxury” tax.
By removing the luxury tax from menstrual hygiene products, the Canadian government took a significant step forward, but there is still more that needs to be done. The issue of menstrual health tends to not be discussed in our society, due to our discomfort discussing topics typically considered ‘disgusting’ (eg. blood) or ‘feminine’ (eg. vaginas). When it is brought up it is often in shameful or humiliating ways. Hygiene products play a crucial role in the overall health of many women, trans people, and other “menstruators”. In order to respect the human rights of menstruators in Canada, our government should be doing more to publically support us.
Menstrual health is often overlooked as an important aspect of overall health. Many menstruators are forced to wear pads or tampons for extended periods of time due to limited supply. This puts them at risk of contracting life-threatening infections or Toxic Shock Syndrome. While these physical risks alone justify menstrual hygiene as a health concern, there are psychological factors that must also be considered. From a young age, we menstruators are taught to hide our periods from others at all costs. I remember carrying my tampons around in a glasses case, out of fear that my classmates would figure out I needed them. For one week every month, I felt like a victim to my own body. I was ashamed of my periods, even though there was nothing I could do to stop them. Later, I was introduced to the reality of “Post-Menstrual Syndrome shaming.” To this day I get told to stop “PMS-ing” whenever I convey feelings of anger or sadness, even when I am weeks away from my period. It is hard not to feel frustrated about menstruating when it subjects me to this sort of treatment. It is no wonder I have felt the need to keep this aspect of my life private.
I am not the only menstruator who has felt this sort of shame and humiliation. Our societal norms validate the lack of empathy that those who do not menstruate often demonstrate towards those who do. Menstruators are forced to act and speak in certain ways in order to appease everyone’s discomfort. Both discussing and displaying menstrual blood is no exception to this rule. Those who are forced to show their blood to others, due to a lack of access to menstrual hygiene products, face social rejection and mental scarring.
While it might not resolve the issue entirely, the Canadian government must help protect the psychological security of those who menstruate within this country. Proper access to menstrual hygiene products should be defined as a human right, and they must be provided to Canadians either cheaply, or free of charge. While all public washrooms supply courtesy toilet paper, soap and seat covers, it is rare to see free tampons or pads. For some reason, the line was drawn at a necessary — but sex-specific — hygiene product. There are places such as women’s shelters and university health centres that provide free menstrual health products to those who need them, but these places are often forced to ration their supplies due to limited donations or funding. Our government should be playing a role in subsidizing menstrual hygiene products, the fact that they do not speaks to their discomfort discussing anything perceived to be related to women’s health.
It is true that the Canadian government has taken an important stand for menstruators by removing the tampon “luxury” tax, but just because an issue has been formally recognized does not mean it is time for the discussion end. There is still a great deal of discomfort surrounding menstruation. For many, it is more painful to put a box of tampons in a shopping basket than it is to recognize the high price that must be paid for them. For others, the cost of menstrual hygiene products is a serious barrier to both their mental and physical health. We as a society need to keep talking openly about menstruation, in order to remove the shame associated with it. Complete subsidization of menstrual hygiene products may be a stretch, but we should at least be taking more baby steps towards resolving this issue. Menstrual health rights are human rights, and they need to be treated as such. Period.
Photo Credit: The Independent