The fight for gender equity in California suffered a setback due to the veto of the Tampon Tax Repeal bill, which passed both houses of the California legislature—unanimously; Governor Jerry Brown cited untimeliness and the loss of tax revenues as his reasons.
By D.R. Harward, staff writer
Despite the advances over the last 100 years towards ensuring the equitable treatment of Americans, the fight for gender equality continues to suffer exasperating setbacks. As you read this, women are paid less for the same work and are charged more for the fundamentally same item or service. In a recent article for Vogue magazine, Patricia Garcia pointed out that “ personal care products marketed to women cost an average of 13 percent more than those marketed to men.” She also points out that, on average, women earn only 79 cents to every dollar made by men.
A particularly pervasive example of the cost inequities suffered by women is sales tax on feminine hygiene products. Items like tampons and menstrual pads that are purchased and used almost exclusively by women, whom therefore also bear the sales tax burden—exclusively. Some, particularly males, might think ; Exclusively? What is the big deal? Some things are bought by only men, so those taxes paid balances out. Right?
Wrong. In fact, just the opposite is true; girls pay all the tax on girls only stuff and boys don’t pay any tax on boys only stuff. Consider the most common equivalent, gender-exclusive products purchased by men–items like Viagra and Rogaine, for example—they are actually exempt from sales tax in almost every state.
In Sacramento, both houses unanimously passed the Tampon Tax Relief bill . Reuters reports that the efforts to get the tax repealed are part of a widespread bipartisan effort to end the disparity. Thus far, the movement has been successful in six other states; New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Jersey.
However, the unusual legislative unanimity was completely disregarded by Governor Jerry Brown, as he vetoed the bill, the Washington Post reported. Brown cited lost revenues and untimeliness as his reasons for vetoing the bill , which was co-authored by state assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D) and state senator Lin Lin Ghang (R).
“Tax breaks are the same as new spending–they both cost the General Fund money.” stated Brown in his veto message. He went on to say that the bill “creates a new tax break or expands an existing tax break.”
The recent awareness of this disparity and the concerted activities recently undertaken by lawmakers to correct it in the U.S. can be traced to an unlikely source; Ingrid Nilsen, an amature vlogger on Youtube. Nilsen broached the issue with President Barack Obama during a live interview streamed on the popular video-sharing website. Obama responded that he had “no idea” that such items were considered a luxury and said that he suspected that taxes were imposed on menstrual items because “men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”
The issue is not confined to America; nearly every country in the world has a version of sales tax, and most tax tampons—unfairly. For example, in the Netherlands tampons are taxed at 8 percent–the luxury item rate—but other household items, such as toilet paper, are taxed at only 2,5 percent.
On July 1, 2015 Canada halted sales tax on all feminine hygiene products, and France recently lowered the tax on tampons and pads from 20 percent down to 5.5 percent. At the turn of the century, the UK reduced the Value Added Tax (“VAT”) from 17.5 percent to 5 percent, which is the lowest rate that the tax can be reduced to on such items under EU rules.
Due to the way the EU implemented the union-wide VAT system, feminine hygiene supplies face wildly varying tax percentages depending on where the purchase is made. The tax on Kotex in Hungary is 27 percent; in Denmark, Sweden and Norway it is 25 percent. Public Radio International (“PRI”) stated that campaigners are petitioning to reduce the 22 percent tampon tax in Italy and Germany. Ireland is the only EU nation that does not tax the sale of such products, however along with Jamaica, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Tanzania and Lebanon–which also offer sales-tax free tampons–tariffs remain on imported brands.
According to PRI, Kenya is the only country that has eliminated both VATs and import duties from feminine sanitary items. Kenyan society has deemed such products to be essential and provides them free to the poor and underprivileged.
Back here in California there is still work to be done if we don’t want to find ourselves waking up one day and discovering that the better half of Californian society has moved to Kenya . We cannot continue to stand on the sidelines and morosely shake our heads in silence when the rich and powerful decree that money trumps equality–it does not. Brown’s worry about lost revenues are completely unfounded because California currently has a surplus of funds, over and above the emergency savings money put away in the state ‘rainy day fund’.
If you are a woman or are friends with at least one woman–you are urged to call or text your state legislators and demand that they override the Governor’s veto of AB 1561. If we each take a few minutes to text just one senator or assembly person today, tomorrow we will wake up in a world that gives our daughters the same opportunities that are available to our sons.