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October 04, 2021 4 min read

Back in 2015, Canada finally abolished what’s known as the federal tampon tax. That day was a BIG win for people who menstruate. In Canada, the tampon tax referred to the 5% federal tax placed on menstrual products. At this time the tampon tax was considered a societal norm, which means that women were paying more simply because they were born with an anatomy that menstruates. 

In retrospect, it was realized that this tax was clearly skewed. But going further into this narrative of gender-based costs, we also run into the issue of the pink tax, which is still very much alive in Canada. 

In this article, we will take a look at the story of the tampon tax in Canada and other parts of the world, and explore a current (and very much related) issue in Canada – the pink tax. Let’s get started!


A jar of coins with a label on it that says “tampon tax”

Abolishing the Tampon Tax in Canada: A Story of Bravery and Unity

As mentioned above, the tampon tax in Canada referred to the 5% federal tax placed on these hygiene products. Other necessities, like food items, are not subjected to this tax. Over time, people started to question why this tax was placed on feminine hygiene products. Menstrual products are, after all, hygienic necessities.  

Eventually, one Canadian Member of Parliament, Irene Mathyssen took the first, most crucial step in abolishing the tampon tax by introducing Bill C-282. The bill’s purpose was to “exempt the sale of feminine hygiene products from the goods and services tax.” 

Initially, Mathyssen’s bill did not gain much public attention – that is, until a group of activists started a campaign around the bill called #NoTaxOnTampons. Through the activists’ careful strategy involving tax lawyers, social media platforms, the media, and, the whole country soon became aware of this issue. 

Looking back, all this may seem like an easy and seamless feat. But it definitely took the passion and dedication of everyone involved in order to re-evaluate societal norms and lift the tampon tax once and for all. 

This story just goes to show how powerful one person’s initiative can be. Furthermore, it reminds us that deep down we all have a sense of what’s just and fair, even in the presence of societal norms. All it takes is a few brave people to stand up for what’s right

Tampon Tax Around the World 

Though the tampon tax is already abolished in Canada, there are still other parts of the world that continue to tax menstrual products. In fact, some countries have much higher tampon taxes than others. Here are a few examples: 

  • In a majority of states in the U.S., menstrual products are still subject to sales taxes
  • Hungary has one of the most surprisingly high tampon taxes, amounting to 27%
  • Sweden, Denmark, and Norway have tampon taxes amounting to 25%
  • Germany continues to have a tampon tax of 7% as of 2019 
  • In Bangladesh, the tampon tax comes in the form of a 15% VAT

How it Relates to Period Poverty 

In many parts of the world, tampon taxes are not just advocating gender-based costs, but are also contributing to a serious issue called “period poverty.” As we’ve discussed in our article, The Reality About Period Poverty, one of the main pillars of this issue is poor access to menstrual hygiene tools and products. 

The tampon tax definitely makes it harder for some women to access menstrual products due to the high taxes placed on these essential items. The repercussions of this are heartbreaking; those living below the poverty line may resort to using unsafe substitutes to manage their periods. 


Tampons made to spell out the word “tax”

What Is the Pink Tax? 

Although the tampon tax is abolished in Canada, the pink tax is still strongly instated as of the writing of this article. Essentially, the pink tax refers to gender-based pricing.  

The pink tax is not just a problem in Canada and the rest of North America, it is also an elusive issue that exists nearly everywhere else in the world. 

The pink tax is a term that encapsulates the phenomenon wherein products marketed towards women are priced higher, even if they only have a few differences from those intended for men. This can apply to everyday essential products such as soap, shampoo, razors, clothes, footwear, dry cleaning, and more.  

The truth of the matter is that the pink tax is far more elusive because it is embedded into the product pricing. It does not really show up as a specific fixed tax percentage, even if it is dubbed as a “tax.”  The pink tax exists because of a number of factors such as product discrimination, tariffs, and so on. 

It is important to note, however, that not all businesses are the same. While it’s true that some retailers are shamelessly putting a high pink tax on their products, others are slowly gaining awareness regarding the repercussions of the pink tax and are saying no to it. 

It can literally pay off to be aware of the businesses that we support. 

Final Thoughts on the Tampon Tax and the Pink Tax 

To tie everything together, it all boils down to this question “how long must people pay for femininity?” That’s what the tampon tax and pink tax essentially are; upcharges targeted at a specific demographic.

So you might be wondering, what is the takeaway? And what can we do about it? 

At illum, we believe that awareness on these important issues is a powerful first step. The more awareness there is about these ongoing issues, the easier it will be for us, as a society, to eventually break the norms. In line with this, please feel free to share this article to help raise awareness with us. 

Let Us End Period Poverty Together 

At illum, we are actively fighting period poverty, one pad at a time. Our sales directly support our initiative to donate period products to Mamas for Mamas

We also have a monthly movement called the #illumperiod program to help those in need of period products. If you know anyone who could benefit greatly from this initiative, whether it’s a friend, family member, or a community member, you can apply here

Tampon tax, the pink tax, and period poverty: all of these may seem like daunting issues, but just remember that as long as we’re facing them together, we’ll eventually see positive changes to these old societal norms.

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