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How Obama's Changed the Game on the Tampon Tax

21/01/2016 17:21 GMT | Updated 21/01/2017 10:12 GMT

President Obama spoke more sense about tampon tax last Friday, than any other leader has in history. During a poignant interview with YouTuber Ingrid Nilsen, the president made some important comments that convinced an extra 24,000 people to sign my 'Stop Taxing Periods. Period' petition in two days, flat. With a total of over 300,000 signatures, we are now more likely to succeed than ever before. But Obama changed the game when he introduced a new frankness to the debate that has sparked a craze to axe the tax that even he deems to be underlying sexist.

Having openly acknowledged that he knew little of tampon tax prior to Nilsen's grilling, he agreed it "fair to say" that dealing with menstruation in the only socially acceptable way possible (with the aid of sanitary products) shouldn't be considered a luxury. He even said that "Michelle would agree with [him] on that". We hope that most Americans would, too.

In admitting that he was not aware of the tax before Nilsen "brought it to [his] attention", Obama highlighted an important problem: there is a menstruation taboo that, in many countries across the world, has prevented us from talking frankly about (and even discovering) issues associated with periods. Crucially, this means we have been unable to solve those issues. Sadly, that includes tampon tax. But there's something we can do about it. In talking about the tax, and acting out against it, we're challenging the period taboo and the oppression that has subsequently silenced women and shamed them for an inevitable function of their body. We're tackling female focused shame by protesting against a female focused tax that many, like Obama, simply haven't been made aware of, leaving him previously unable to join our protest.

In his second comment, Obama dropped one of the biggest tampon tax truth bombs of all time. He said: "I have to tell you I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items. I suspect it's because men were making laws when these taxes were passed."

We have been waiting for almost half a century for a political leader to publicly connect male agenda setting to the existence of policies such as tampon tax and finally the wait is over. Yes. There is a logic behind the taxation of tampons and the simultaneous tax exemption of maintaining private helicopters or eating exotic meats. It stems from a perception of essentiality that has come from men at the top. Sadly, these men didn't seem to view tampons with the same love as they did their taste for crocodile meat. Hence, in 1973, a male dominated parliament passed a law in the UK that enabled them to tax tampons, mooncups and sanitary products as luxury items, and exempt other, more essential goods. Women and trans men aside, all was well.

In making this short but powerful statement, Obama highlighted another very important issue that tampon tax has become a symptom of. Female political underrepresentation. When women become underrepresented in parliament, like they are in the vast majority of countries across the world, their visibility and voices suffer. Obama pointed out that this sexist tax may well have been created due to an issue that is still alive today. Women were politically underrepresented in 1973, and that undoubtedly helped the passing of tampon tax trough parliament, but the important point is that women continue to be outnumbered in Westminster, alongside other parliaments, today.

The Westminster MPs who have made a personal effort to connect with this campaign and help us to end tampon tax have been exclusively female. Even after meeting with Andy Burnham's team during the Labour leadership race, we were told that other issues had taken his focus away from tampons. Including women in politics shouldn't be a political tool to win votes. It should be a necessity of a functional parliament. Obama explained why and his words can be summed up in one simple sentence: a world-wide tax on menstruation.

#EndTamponTax