That other ‘dirty’ word

By Madeline Price

This article is featured in Wom*news 7: Bodies, available in the Wom*n’s Room now.

For one week of every month, from adolescence until menopause, women suffer, relish in,
endure, (whichever word you wish to choose) menstruation. If the ‘f-word’ was the ‘dirty
word’ of the last century (yes, I mean ‘feminism’), then ‘menstruation’ has been the ‘dirty
word’ of the last millennia. However, all can accept that it is an inevitable, endurable facet of life as a female.

Then why, when it is an occurring and inevitable process, are females across the world taxed heavily for the ‘luxury items’ that are tampons and sanitary pads?

A mere decade ago, the Australian federal government decided that tampons and sanitary
pads were luxury items, causing the female public to suffer GST (Goods and Services Tax)
taxation. This GST is a tax of 10% on most goods and services across Australia; and, being
a value-added tax, serves refunds to all parties within the chain of production, with the
exception of the final consumer.

Recent evidence by the Australian Sex Party in 2010 found that the GST revenue from
female sanitary products alone was close to $14 million – an astounding figure for such
a ‘luxury item’.

Interestingly, however, are what items not deemed ‘luxury items’, including; herbal
medicines, condoms and lubricants. Specifically, according to the GST-free Health Goods
and Services Act by then-Health Minister Tony Abbott, the following items may be GST-free:

1. Condoms
2. Barrier dams, femidoms and harness devices
3. Personal and surgical lubricants that:

  • (a) are water-soluble; and
  • (b) are suitable for use with condoms

4. Preparations for use by humans:

  • (a) that contain folic acid as a single active ingredient; and
  • (b) have a recommended daily dose of 400 to 500 micrograms

5. Sunscreen preparations for dermal application that:

  • (a) are marketed principally for use as sunscreen; and
  • (b) have a sun protection factor rating of 15 or more

6. Nicotine for use as an aid in withdrawal from tobacco smoking where:

  • (a) the nicotine is administered in preparations for transdermal use; or
  • (b) the nicotine is administered through chewing gum; or
  • (c) the nicotine is administered through a lozenge.

The fact that condoms are not seen as a ‘luxury item’, whilst sanitary products are, simply
astounds me. Females cannot choose not to menstruate, but both males and females can
choose not to have sex – what signifies more of a requirement for a ‘luxury item’ then?
Similarly, this case exists in relation to smoking, and, specifically, withdrawing from
smoking. Both sexes can choose not to smoke, or not to withdraw from smoking.

Evidence exists to demote sanitary products from ‘luxury items’ to ‘essential GST-free
items’, including evidence from the company Global Industry Analysts. In a recent press-
release they emphasised that “[the] demand for feminine hygiene products is less susceptible to economic ups and down as compared to other discretionary consumer products, where demand responses to economic ups and downs are typically amplified”. This itself shows that sanitary products are constantly at a greater need, regardless of the economic climate, of which other ‘luxury items’ are susceptible to.

GIA further goes on to emphasise that the need for these essential items (or ‘luxury items’, depending on if you’re female or not) is growing.

“The steadily growing population, rise in the number of working women and subsequent
increases in demand for convenient disposable items and rising hygiene awareness and
maintenance of health among women in rural areas stand out as strong market fundamentals that will help nail down growth patterns across the world.”

Canadian politician, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, pointedly stated the unfairness of the situation.

“Charging GST on feminine hygiene products clearly affects women only”, she said, “It unfairly disadvantages women financially solely because of our reproductive role.”

However, whilst these GST taxed ‘luxury items’ are an annoyance and evidence of an unfair system for those living in the first world, they are more than just that for our third world sisters.

In Rwanda alone, new statistics show that females miss up to 50 days of work or school
per year, due to menstruation problems (which adds up to more than five years of lost
productivity over a lifetime). In addition to this, most females must resort to the use of bark,
leaves and rags because the cost of one month’s supply of female sanitary products is greater than a day’s wage.

In Australia, the average cost of pads is $5 and for tampons it is $4. On average, each female in Australia will use ten pads or tampons, 12 times a year (approximately one box of either item). This adds up to an approximate cost of between $48 – $70 per year, per female at the very least. Over an average lifetime (of 80 years, minus the first ten or so years that menstruation is not an issue), that adds up to more than $4 000, spent on something necessary requiring tax!

However you choose to look at it, through the first- or third-world lens, female sanitary
products should not be taxed. It is an unfair tax simply for being a female and should never
have existed. Period.

~ Madeline Price


Author Unknown. (2010). ‘Padding out the GST’, Online Opinion (online) http://

Australian Government. (2004). ‘GST-free Supply (Health Goods) Determination
2004’ Federal Register for Legislative Instruments, 1-3.

Global Industry Analysts. (2011). ‘Global Market for Feminine Hygiene Products to Reach

US$14.3 Billion by 2015, According to New Report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc.’, PR

Web (online)

NDP (2009) ‘Drop GST from feminine hygiene products’, NDP Press Releases (online)

Tecco, H. (2009) ‘When Menstruation Means Inequality’, The Huffington Post (online) http://


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