The UK became the youngest country on Friday to reverse its sanitary product policies by abolishing what is known as the tampon tax, ceasing to classify the products as non-essential and removing additional costs that many have criticized as sexist.
The tax, an added value of 5 percent on sanitary products such as tampons and sanitary towels, is the minimum required for members of the European Union who do not consider these goods essential. With the separation of Great Britain from the European Union this week, the tax was abolished.
“It has been a long way to get to that point, but eventually the sexist tax, which categorized sanitary products as non-essential luxuries, can make history,” said Felicia Willow, executive director of the Fawcett Society, a charity supporter gender equality and women’s rights, it said in a statement.
The abolition of the tax is part of a broader government initiative to end “period poverty” and make period products available to everyone regardless of financial constraints. Since last year, the initiative has included the introduction of free sanitary products in schools, universities and hospitals.
“We have already introduced free sanitary products in schools, colleges and hospitals, and this commitment brings us one step closer to making them available and affordable for all women,” said Chancellor Rishi Sunak in a statement.
In recent years, governments around the world have revised their policies on sanitary products. In November, Scotland became the first country to make contemporary products freely available. Last year Germany officially changed its stance on menstrual products by declaring them essential and lowering the tax rate after they had long been classified as “luxury goods”.
In the United States, Nevada, New York, Florida, Connecticut, and Illinois abolished the tax between 2016 and 2018. Canada, India, Malaysia and Australia (which once viewed the products as “luxury”) have also abolished the tax.
Women’s activists were overjoyed with the news on Friday. In 2014, when Laura Coryton was 21, she created an online petition on Change.org aiming to get rid of the tax.
Abolishing the tax was a year-long effort with Ms. Coryton hand-submitting her petition to a government office in 2016. The details of the tax elimination also revolved around Brexit, she said in an interview on Friday.
The petition found more than 300,000 supporters and put central public pressure on the issue. “It’s really, really hard for a government to ignore so many people,” said Ms. Coryton, 27, from London.
“I never thought it would be successful because it is about taxes and menstruation, not very popular topics,” she said.
On Friday morning Change.org UK tweeted: “People Power Works”.