Let’s speak about our periods: Campaign pressures politicians to cut tax on sanitary products

Finland has one of Europe's highest taxes on menstrual products, and campaigners say they shouldn't be so highly taxed for such essential items which are not a luxury.

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File picture of tampons on supermarket shelf / Credit: News Now Finland

A campaign spearheaded by the Finnish Feminist Association Naisunioni is working with political parties to raise awareness of the issues of period poverty, and to get a tax cut on their agendas.

There’s currently value added tax of 24% put on women’s sanitary products in Finland, including tampons, pads and menstrual cups, and Naisunioni wants to see it reduced to 10%.

“Why are we paying 24% tax on these products that is not a luxury item?” asks Fatim Diarra, President of Naisunioni.

“If you menstruate then you will need these products, and women will have to pay this tax on it, and when you go to the store it’s not priced like a medicine with the lower tax” she explains.

Naisunioni started an online conversation about the issues using the slogan ‘let’s speak about our periods’ and they’re also working at a grassroots political level.

“The women’s organisations in these different political parties have now made these proposals to their party assemblies that the party should also start to push for this goal. We know that the Centre Party women have done this, and the National Coalition Party and the Social Democrats also” Diarra says.

File picture of menstrual products on supermarket shelf / Credit: News Now Finland

Finland’s tax among highest in Europe

Across Europe there’s already been successful efforts to lower the tax in a number of countries, although while EU regulations have allowed a reduction in the ‘tampon tax’ since 2007, not all governments have moved to do so.

The Nordic countries (excluding Iceland), Latvia, Hungary and Greece have the highest VAT rates in Europe for menstrual products; while Poland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania are among those who recently reduced the VAT rates to 5%.

From 1st January this year Germany cut the tax from 19% to 7% after a campaign there to reclassify sanitary products from the ‘luxury’ VAT bracket to ‘essential’.

“I understand that our situation is that we have some of the highest taxes on these products, and many other countries the tax is lower” says Diarra.

In Ireland there’s zero tax paid on menstrual products – but this has been the case since before the introduction of minimum EU tax rates of 5%.

File picture of Fatim Diarra / Credit: Naisunioni

Making slow political progress 

By first engaging the women’s organisations within political parties to raise the topic with their national conferences and get it on the agenda, Naisunioni is taking a slowly-slowly approach.

The government could, at any time, make a unilateral decision to cut the tampon tax to 10% as Naisunioni wants, or to the EU minimum 5%.

“It’s also one of our goals that we are lobbying the government directly […] but we want all the political parties to understand this is not a random issue, we want to make the political parties discuss about this topic” Fatim Diarra – who is also a Green Alliance politician on Helsinki City council, explains.

“Often it feels like some issues that involve women is often something that is not really discussed. If men would need these products I would be 100% sure they would already have a lower tax” she adds.

Naisunioni doesn’t think the issue will make it to the government’s upcoming autumn budget negotiations – especially during a time when coronavirus has hurt the economy so badly and the exchequer needs the VAT revenues – but they’re hopeful that the current red-green government will include it in future budget negotiations.

File picture of menstrual products on supermarket shelf / Credit: News Now Finland

Tackling everyday feminist issues 

Although Finland has made huge progress tackling many issues of gender equality over the last decades, the issue of high VAT on menstrual products has never been successfully addressed before.

Fatim Diarra says that while strides have been made on the “big feminist themes” there’s been no focus on the smaller topics that affect all women – “and periods is one thing like this.”

“We have been fighting the big battles and not concentrating on the battles of everyday life. And as feminists we have to to everything” she says.

“I think the fact we are discussing this topic is revolutionary since we haven’t discussed it in Finland, and now we are making the first steps.”