Both the Coalition and the Labor party last week voted against changes to the discriminatory Tampon Tax — the 10 percent tax on women's sanitary products that formed part of the Howard Government’s introduction of GST in 2000.

Although I was disappointed, I certainly wasn’t surprised. This seemingly insignificant defeat fits perfectly into a broader narrative of women’s bodies being misunderstood, controlled or disregarded, and in which gender-equal policies are barely given a thought. In fact, many politicians couldn’t even be bothered to show up for Monday’s vote.

Image courtesy of  Larissa Waters MP .

Image courtesy of Larissa Waters MP.

The Greens, the Nick Xenophon team, Derryn Hinch, David Leyonhjelm and Lucy Gichuhi all seem to understand that sanitary items are as essential as food, water and sunscreen. They know that we can’t just ‘hold it in’ as suggested by Ryan Williams, who’s 2016 tweet burned so brightly with ignorance that I can only assume he was sick on the day they covered reproduction in sex ed.

When women's sanitary products were hit with a tax in 2000, it was not the first time that women had to pay more for just… well, being women. This is true economically, with the so-called ‘Pink Tax’ bumping up the price of gendered items and services such as razors, deodorants and haircuts, with (white) women earning 23 cents less than every dollar made by a man, and with women retiring with just over half the superannuation of men. But I also mean this in a biological sense. There is still no male contraceptive pill (despite numerous positive clinical trials showing that this is entirely possible), which results in the burden of controlling fertility falling primarily on women.

And historically women’s access to reproductive health and rights has been deliberately denied. Even in Australia there are still two states (New South Wales and Queensland) where it is illegal for women to access safe abortions. In 2017, Australian women are still denied the right to have full autonomy over their bodies.

This is nothing new. The Ancient Greeks believed that women existed for nothing more than child bearing, and men all over the world, driven by fear, have put in place laws to control women’s sexuality and reproduction under the guise of morality. Up until the 20th century, male bias in the medical profession meant that women couldn’t even visualise their own sexuality, with anatomical illustrations of female genitalia barely giving the clitoris attention or omitting it entirely. Superstition and control was placed on periods too. As late as 1878, the British Medical Journal questioned whether or not a touch of a menstruating woman could turn a ham rancid!

Enter 2017, where society’s aversion to all things PMS has given online ‘influencers’ a mandate to refer to periods as a sign of toxicity in your body. Many young people rely on the internet for information about sexual and reproductive health, and propagating such lies is incredibly damaging. Although periods vary in flow and frequency and naturally stop during pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause, they are generally a sign that everything is working, and that the body is healthy.

At the same time, Republicans in America are now presenting the American Health Care Bill to the Senate. Crafting the bill fell in the hands of 13 conservative men and not a single woman, meaning that there was nobody representing the concerns of 126 million female adults. Severing all support for Planned Parenthood for a full year is on the table, along with discouraging insurance companies from covering abortion – two issues affecting women's bodies that they had no say in. 

The Tampon Tax isn't just a tax on women's sanitary products, but a manifestation of a much greater issue where periods continue to be shrouded in stigma and shame, and where women’s bodies are misunderstood, afraid of, policed, and taxed. We need to become more comfortable with bodies and fully accept them as they are, see women as complete equals to men, and put an end to referring to women as the emotional slaves of our cycles.

Oh, and let's get rid of this tax. The Greens are calling on Labor and the Coalition to do just that. Sign the petition here: