Apart from being a flagrant reminder of one's youth and fertility, being on your period is never fun. Blood gloops out of your vagina, often with little warning, and is often accompanied with excruciating cramps that make you see stars. Then you have to shove a little cotton stick up there to avoid, y'know, embarrassing yourself in public and not soaking and staining every piece of material you come into contact with. Despite this monthly saga being an unavoidable part of being a woman with a womb, our biological cycle is, effectively, taxed.
HM Revenue and Customs categorize tampons as "non-essential luxury items," unlike alcoholic jellies, kangaroo meat, and edible sugar flowers—all of which are considered essential to the well-being of the community. Of course, if women avoided sanitary ware and actually did just allow themselves to bleed everywhere, there would be chaos. Public transport would be a nightmare—not sure how you'd get the deep, claret stains out of those fuzzy seats on the Tube—and we'd have to buy new clothes every single month.
Paying tax for being a biological woman is not only absurd, it's unapologetically sexist.
In June last year, Goldsmiths student Laura Coryton started an online campaign to stop taxing periods, which has since reached 217,143 signatures of the intended 300,000 goal (you can sign the petition here). Last week, Laura and her friend Lucy Lu started a Facebook event, inviting supporters to march from 10 Downing Street in fake blood-covered knickers to "show your support to ensure the mighty tampon, sanitary towel and maternity pad are VAT free this election. Tampons not a necessity? Then welcome to the world where we don't wear them."
I didn't have the time or materials to dress up as a period, but I wasn't lacking in spirit, so a photographer and I went to Downing Street to join the march.
What we didn't expect was to arrive to a swarm of 16-year-old girls singing Bleeding Love by Leona Lewis, their tampon earrings swinging from their ears as they downed cheap cider. I was clearly the oldest person there, it being 5.30PM on a weekday, but it was busy nonetheless.
Organizer Lucy Lu [pictured above], who was handing out fake blood-soaked knickers to protesters, told VICE, "I was walking down the street and a homeless girl came up to me and said, 'Could I have a tampon?' I thought that was outrageous—tampons should be free on the NHS. Then I started looking into it and I couldn't believe that tampons were still taxed. If HMRC think that they're not an essential, then we're not going to wear them. That's the idea behind the protest," she explained.
"I want more publicity, especially in the run up to the election," she added. Hardly any MPs have said anything about it. Nick Clegg said that it wasn't in his manifesto, Nigel Farage said he'd think about it, and David Cameron has always avoided the subject. It's a health issue, not a women's issue."
I spoke to Indigo [pictured above], who had travelled from Berkshire to attend. "When you realize that Jaffa Cakes, bingo, betting, exotic meats, and men's razors are all taxed as necessities, it makes you baffled as to why women's hygiene products are considered 'luxury,'" she said. "The average woman menstruates for 20 to 30 years, so a 5 percent taxation really does add up. It's crazy that men are deciding what are necessities for women."
There were about four men that turned up, one of whom was Oisin [pictured above]. "I'm here because I heard about it from my girlfriend, and I think it's disgusting to tax something that's a necessity for a lot of people's lives. I want to show my disdain, in the hope that the government will listen."
Kareen [pictured above] told VICE: "It's ridiculous that we're taxed for having vaginas. This is such an outdated thing. I know it's going to be hard to get the tax taken off, because of the EU law, but I think the best thing would be if the NHS offered tampons or free pads for people."
After about an hour of chanting "We will bleed!" and "Don't tax our Tampax!' the crowd decided to march down to Parliament Square to roll about in the grass. At this point, the pervasive press presence decided to disperse, while protestors took selfies. "I'm going to put this as my cover photo," I overheard someone who was dressed to the nines in ketchup say.
Eventually, security ushered everybody off the grass and the protest drew to a close. Despite it resembling an al fresco house party towards the end, it was exciting to be around people who were actually trying to do something about the fact that half the population are being taxed for something that is biologically impossible to prevent. I suppose that's what happens when 75 percent of our parliament are men and they can't even say the word "tampon" out loud.
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