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This article is part of Canvas’s International Women’s Week mini-issue

Menstruation is an unavoidable part of being a woman. Why then are women forced to spend £90 every year on sanitary products?[1] If condoms and other forms of contraception are available on the NHS, why then are these essential items not also? Yes, the NHS is stretched and bled dry, no pun intended, by helping the people of Britain, but surely a ‘condition’ that is unavoidable, regular and, in certain cases, debilitating should be ‘treated’? In an ideal world all sanitary products (and menstruation necessitated pain killers) would be free for all women, stopping the financial punishment on women for a naturally occurring phenomena.

Given that the gender pay gap is 9.6%, it is a complete and utter injustice that women have to even pay for sanitary products and pay tax on top of that also.[2]  Yes, Gordon Brown reduced the tax on sanitary products (from 17.5% to 5%) in 2001,but this has not made the products free and easily accessible to every woman. [3] Not only is the tax on sanitary products sexist, but it is also classist. All women have periods, it is not something just wealthy or just poor women experience, it is a global, class-defying experience. [4]

How can we change the current predicament? I am sure the hard-liners, the radical feminists, would advocate some militant protest. Yet women are between a rock and hard place, we cannot boycott sanitary products, the sanitary towel and tampon market is dominated by a select few companies and women, as well as men, are simply too embarrassed to talk about menstruation and all that comes (out) with it. The topic is ‘taboo’, and quite frankly I cannot imagine any MP pushing for this topic to be on the political agenda. The comment section below a BBC website article entitled ‘is it taxing being a woman?’ featured a variety of responses; predominantly  questioning why this topic is even being discussed and that there ‘must be more important issues to address’. [5] I suggest that such male-dominated contributions would reconsider their arguments on experiencing a period.

It is a sad point we have reached, women are forced to be embarrassed about something natural and unavoidable. I do not want a perfumed sanitary towel which opens quietly. I will not be ashamed of a process simply because it is messy. It is time that politicians took seriously the issue of menstruation; maybe for now all we can hope for is the removal of tax, but in the future I visualize a system where tampons, panty liners and sanitary towels are free. I for one can think of a few things I would rather spend £2700 on upon reaching the menopause.

Article by Maisy Griffiths


[2] [1]–in-2012/ashe1112.html


[4] Sarah Childs, ‘the Substantive Representation of Women: The Case of the Reduction of VAT on Sanitary Products’, Parliamentary Affairs, 59:1 (2006)


  • Steven

    As a man, I feel your plight.

    I have about one cold a month – I should get free tissues.
    I need to go to the toilet at least three times a week – I should get free loo roll.
    I need to sleep nightly – I should get a free mattress. King size, please.
    I begin to stink if I don’t have a shower regularly – free soap please!

  • Rach

    I do not begrudge paying, because it means that you have a choice from a wide range of products and can choose what really suits you. I don’t look at it as clinical or anything like that, it’s just part of my life! When I buy shower gel I buy sanitary products, and the offers are so good these days that how someone would manage to spend near enough a hundred quid on products baffles me?! I know women shave, but men shave more regularly due to excessive facial hair which is biological too, should razors become available?