For many people, last Monday would have been the first they've heard of the tampon tax debate. For battle-hardened veterans however [I'm thinking Rambo with his bullet-belt of tampons - Tambo: First Blood] the work began long ago in the 1970's when the VAT rate of 17.5% was first applied. Since then it has been fought almost every step of the way.
Sure, there may be the odd dinosaur like Bill Cash MP who can't say the word 'tampon' in the Commons. Despite last week's defeat in Parliament, it seems the general feeling is that there are now more people against the tampon tax than for it.
To think this is about putting women out of pocket is missing the point
The tax itself currently stands at the lowest permissible rate of 5%. It's true that zero-rating would only wipe a massive £2-3 a year off what women are already paying, but to think this is about putting women out of pocket is missing the point.
The tax is a reflection on how we perceive menstruation. It's an archaic view that tampons are a luxury for spoiling our periods. It would be interesting to see what the national response would be if every woman decided to follow the lead of Kiran Gandhi, who, in part to highlight our attitude towards periods, "free-bled" while running in this year's London Marathon. Where's the luxury in that?
Tackling the cause
As my 3-year old daughter bombs around kicking footballs and building towers, I wonder how much will change when she hits puberty. Because that's when the Berlin Wall goes up isn't it? When the lumps and bumps start to arrive. We can talk about curing society of male-centric views, but we all know prevention is superior to cure. Far superior. So when girls suddenly discover this previously unknown thing will now happen to them every month, this is the most crucial time to act. This is where the foundations are laid for their social subconscious and their confidence. This is where they decide how they are going to walk the next stage of their life; tip toe-ing nervously, dragging their heels, or taking big strong strides?
How they are introduced to the alien world of puberty, to their periods, what they think other people think of them, and what it means to be a woman, are defined during these few key years. The vocabulary used, the reference material shown to them, and their interaction with boys are all essential in helping shape their opinion of themselves.
The vocabulary used, the reference material shown to them, and their interaction with boys are all essential in helping shape their opinion of themselves.
The muddy waters of the National Curriculum means that there is no clear outline for teaching boys and girls about menstruation when they are approaching puberty. I run a period subscription service called Sanitary Owl that also provides educational packs for girls across the UK. When we were looking into material to put into our Teen Box we wanted to focus on the positive, on facts and on choices. Good-bye embarrassment. Be gone discretion. Language that celebrates normality... by being normal. Because that's really the crux of it, isn't it? Periods are normal. Not a luxury. We're not saying shout about it, we're saying you don't have to be quiet about it.
I feel we're all swimming in the same direction on this topic. We're all trying to prevent the invisible wedge being driven between the sexes that triggers notions of inferiority/superiority. So when it comes to the period talk, shouldn't we make girls and boys sit down together and learn about what's happening to their bodies, and keep talking about it? That way children will be cool about this topic... without even realising they need to be cool about this topic. What topic?
Celia Pool, Founder, Sanitary Owl