Illus­tra­tion by Mag­da­lena Otter­stedt / Kopf­über Design for Vulvani

Mens­trual pro­ducts in Ger­many were taxed with the incre­a­sed tax rate of 19 per­cent (also known as luxury tax rate) until the end of 2019. After much lob­by­ing and with the suc­cess­ful peti­tion ‘Peri­ods are not a luxury’, two mens­trual acti­vists from Ham­burg, Ger­many mana­ged to change the tax rate for mens­trual pro­ducts. Star­ting Janu­ary 01, 2020, fol­lowing the appro­val of the Ger­man Bun­des­rat, all mens­trual pro­ducts (except panty liners! – for wha­te­ver rea­son) will finally be sub­ject to the redu­ced tax rate of seven percent!

German tax system: 7% vs. 19%

There are two dif­fe­rent tax rates in Ger­many. The redu­ced tax rate of seven per­cent app­lies to pro­ducts of daily use. This is inten­ded to relieve people finan­cially when purcha­sing basic neces­si­ties such as food or toi­let paper. Howe­ver, pro­ducts that are cer­tainly not part of ever­y­day shop­ping are also sub­ject to the sim­pli­fied tax rate. These include, for example, sal­mon caviar, cut flowers or pain­tings. Mens­trual pro­ducts, on the other hand, were taxed at the incre­a­sed tax rate of 19 per­cent, col­lo­quially known as the tam­pon tax. Like really? Aren’t these pro­ducts of daily use as well? The tax rate implied that mens­trual pro­ducts are not basic needs. But are tam­pons, pads or mens­trual cups really a luxury? Unfor­tu­n­a­tely not. The incre­a­sed taxa­tion did not repre­sent the truth. Because unless you prac­tice free blee­ding, mens­trua­ting people without the necessary mens­trual pro­ducts are pretty much lost. Peri­ods are the­re­fore not a luxury that we treat our­sel­ves in month after month!

Global activism against the tampon tax

In recent years, various initia­ti­ves have been for­med world­wide to cam­paign to remove the tam­pon tax. The demand is often simi­lar: poli­ti­ci­ans should reco­gnise period pro­ducts as a basic need and reduce tax rates accord­in­gly. There have already been posi­tive examp­les on an inter­na­tio­nal level who have acted against the tax discri­mi­na­tion of mens­trua­ting people. For it is time that the neces­sity of equal rights is unders­tood and lived at all (poli­ti­cal) levels. In 2020, there is no lon­ger any room for sexism in our tax sys­tem and the sys­te­ma­tic discri­mi­na­tion of mens­trua­ting people.

Who are the faces behind the petition ‘Periods are not a luxury’?

Nanna-Jose­phine Roloff and Yase­min Kotra have tog­e­ther laun­ched the peti­tion ‘Perios are not a luxury – lower the tam­pon tax!’ On March 8, 2018 they publis­hed the peti­tion on the online plat­form change.org, con­vi­ently the Inter­na­tio­nal Womxn’s Day. It demands that mens­trual pro­ducts in Ger­many should be regar­ded as basic needs and be taxed at the sim­pli­fied tax rate of seven per­cent. The tam­pon tax is also a sym­bol of jus­tice and the incre­a­sed tax rate of 19 per­cent discri­mi­na­tes against all mens­trua­ting people.

‘We don’t want to just keep obser­ving, we want to par­ti­ci­pate. Par­ti­ci­pa­ting and figh­t­ing for equal rights and women’s rights. But where should we start? We deci­ded to put our fin­ger on the sore spot of sys­temic discri­mi­na­tion and do some­thing about the unfair taxa­tion of our mens­trua­tion. An injus­tice that we can no lon­ger tolerate!’

Persistence and lobbying

The two acti­vists have mana­ged again and again to get the media’s atten­tion, large and small, to report on their peti­tion. In order to place a topic in the centre of society and to achieve a change in mind­sets, media pre­sence is of great impor­t­ance. Because only in this way can taboo topics become visi­ble and acces­si­ble to the broad mas­ses. And the inter­na­tio­nal press has also become aware of the two women from Ham­burg – and rightly so! In the last 1.5 years, they have found more than 180,000 sup­por­ters for their peti­tion and con­vin­ced poli­ti­ci­ans with their argu­ments and per­se­ver­ance. And the result is impres­sive: Mens­trual pro­ducts will be taxed in Ger­many from Janu­ary 2020 only with the sim­pli­fied tax rate of seven per­cent. Goo­dybe tam­pon tax, because peri­ods are not a luxury!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart

The suc­cess­ful peti­tion and the tireless efforts of Yase­min and Nanna have paid off, because since Janu­ary 2020, mens­trual pro­ducts are now only taxed at seven per­cent. Thank you for your innu­me­ra­ble dis­cus­sions with poli­ti­ci­ans, thank you for your edu­ca­tio­nal work, thank you for your per­se­ver­ance, thank you for nor­ma­li­zing mens­trua­tion! Thank you, thank you, thank you! But this is only the begin­ning. I am curious to see which sleepy poli­ti­ci­ans will be woken up by the these two and where their mens­trual jour­ney will take them. The next pro­ject is already in the making: free mens­trual pro­ducts in public toi­lets in Ham­burg. I’m defi­ni­tely a huge fan of the two and will fol­low every step atten­tively and with a lot of curio­sity – and you should do the same!

What about panty liners?

The new taxa­tion is almost com­ple­tely suc­cess­ful. Unfor­tu­n­a­tely, a small ques­ti­ons remains. Because the redu­ced tax rate app­lies to all period pro­ducts except panty liners. This means that panty liners are still taxed at 19 per­cent. You might ask yourself why? So do we! It is said that panty liners are not used exclu­si­vely for mens­trua­tion, but rather for daily use. Unfor­tu­n­a­tely, the logic of poli­ti­ci­ans makes no sense at all. Because the redu­ced tax rate is sup­po­sed to apply to pro­ducts of daily use. Well, at least the mens­trual world remains exciting.

Britta Wiebe, period education, Vulvani
Britta 
Co-Foun­der Vulvani | britta@vulvani.com | Web­site | + posts

Britta Wiebe is the co-foun­der of Vul­vani. She loves rese­ar­ching, wri­ting and designing new arti­cles or inno­va­tive edu­ca­tio­nal con­cepts about mens­trua­tion all day long. When she is not tra­vel­ling the world, she enjoys spen­ding time with her loved ones in the beau­ti­ful city of Ham­burg in Germany.