[The two people we interviewed used the word “women” to refer to people who have period. We use, then, in this article, their sentences. However, we believe it’s necessary to specify that also transgender and non-binary people menstruate as well as not every woman does. This is why, when we are not referring to external quotations we prefer to use the term “menstruant person” in order not to discriminate anyone.]
Period is not a luxury, but tampons are. In most European countries, indeed, tampons and other igienical products for menstruant people are taxed with the highest amount. Therefore they are not accessible to many. One out of ten people in the Netherlands and UK cannot afford their tampons, being forced to use alternatives such as socks, newspaper, igienic paper.
“Many citizens think this problem does not affect the Netherlands, but we checked and it is real”. This is what Vera Da Graça (27) and Suzanne Visser (29) say, as creators of a campaign against menstrual poverty made in Gouda. “We are friends and we always discuss about feminist topics, even if we don’t take part in any collective”. But when it comes to tampons, they decided it was too unfair and they feel it was necessary to do something.
Everything started after Suzanne read “Period Power“, a book by Maisie Hill. “There’s a chapter about menstrual poverty, it shocked me”. The book deals with UK, however Suzanne found out the problem exist almost everywhere. In the Netherlands, too.
“Dutch association Bovengrondse reported that in 2019 one woman out of ten could not afford to buy monthly tampons”. The applied tax on such products is the highest (21%) in the Netherlands. As a consequence, the average cost could be 8 euros. The cheaper they are, the worse the quality. And a bad quality implies igienic problems or infections.
About period poverty
“Menstrual poverty is spread among young women (15-25-year-old) especially”. This happens because they lack autonomy over family expenses, not being able to decide which kind of products they can buy.
People with a low income are also affected. “When a family does not have enough money, a woman is often forced to choose between food for children and her own hygienic products”. There’s a paradox, which is why Vera and Suzanne created Bloedverwanten.
First, they created a Facebook page and a gofoundme page. Then they spread everything among friends and relatives.
During the pandemic, it became clear that tampons are too expensive. Poverty increased overall and Food Bank (Voedselbank) started its services in Gouda. Food Bank set up boxes with necessary products (food, cans, soaps) to deliver to people in need. However tampons were never included. So, the first action of the campaign was to include tampons bought thanks to the crowdfunding in the boxes. “Voedselbank was happy that we helped.”
Another contributor was a bio shop that decided to discount menstrual products (tampons, cups, etc). “It was very useful, we could get more products with the same amount of money”. And the products were also eco-friendly. Tampons produce a lot of solid waste, and the two girls want to spread knowledge on the existance of sustainable alternatives for women. “We want each woman able to choose the best product available”. According to Vera and Suzanne, women and girls should be educated about the ecological and safest alternatives for their period.
The main objective of the campaign, indeed, is not to raise money, but to open a debate on the issue. “We hope it will be debated in public soon. Also in schools.” They will meet with a counselor of the town in order to discuss long-term strategies for Gouda.
Scotland is the only country in Europe where products related to period are tax-exempted. In the other countries, tampons are usually taxed as luxury products (3%-22%). Necessary products are normally taxed at the lowest, but in many countries tampons are not considered to be necessary.
Period poverty prevents women to attend work and school. This happens, in Gouda, to 2000 women. “This problem has to do with hygiene, confort and self-determination”.
Any solution? Vera and Suzanne have many. “First step would be to deliver tampons in public places and schools. However, there should be a shared solution, common at local and national level.” One could be to include tampons in basic health-service (like viagra and birth control pill are).
Dutch media frequently covered tampon tax this year, due also to Scotland decision to make tampons completely free. “We hope this event can seriously open the debate in the Netherlands”.