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Why I'm Giving Out Free Tampons

10/10/2014 12:49 BST | Updated 10/12/2014 10:59 GMT
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Periods are bloody expensive. If it isn't the price of towels and tampons; it's the extra supply of pants, pyjamas and bed sheets we get through.

Anyone with a uterus will also be familiar with the associated cost of paracetamol and a sweet treat to lift the low endorphin level each month. Sometimes there's even the expense of an absence at work or college if the pain is particularly debilitating.

Today, 3,500 students at my university are having their period. Sanitary items are a pretty crucial instrument for them, yet the Government doesn't seem to see it that way. Tampons and towels are currently taxed at a rate of 5% as a 'luxury, non-essential item', and hence subject to Value Added Tax (VAT). Many products are free from VAT as they are viewed as fundamental: food, prescriptions and children's clothes... but not sanitary products.

Last time I checked, using a tampon was pretty essential in going about my daily life whilst on my period. Sanitary items are also crucial to health and hygiene - using homemade alternatives can put you at risk of infection. Surely it's unethical to charge for the upkeep of a natural bodily function, let alone ask people to give a contribution to the Government each time?

It's not like periods only turn on once you get to working age, or only come around when you can afford to deal with them. In fact, most people start their period when they're still a child. The products we use to soak it up with should be free.

Some of our students have told me they opt to take the contraceptive pill continuously to avoid a monthly cycle and the costs that come with it. Some research, however, suggests a continuous use could be harmful. No student should have to make a choice between taking the contraceptive pill to stop their period, using unsuitable items or cutting down on other essentials in their budget.

Some Students' Unions have, in the past, offered tax free tampons as a protest of the policy - as well as an effort to help their members. This year, we've gone a step further. We've started a free supply for students to come and pick up at their convenience.

This is a relatively simple task for us which will hopefully help our members with costs, highlight the inherent sexism in charging for these essential supplies, and kick off a conversation about periods that is positive and empowering. Because nobody should have to pay to bleed. Period.

Shelly Asquith is the president of SUARTS, the University of the Arts Students' Union