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Tanya Plibersek wants to repeal the tampon tax. But we can do better

Cat Rodie

Published: March 8 2018 - 3:14PM

It was heartening to see Tanya Plibersek confirm Labor’s commitment to remove GST from sanitary items on Wednesday.

"Australia levies GST on tampons but we don't apply it to Viagra,” she said during a speech at the National Press Club ahead of International Women’s Day.

"Only a bunch of blokes sitting around a table would come to the conclusion that sanitary pads are anything other than an essential good."

For many of us, the bottom line is that the "tampon tax" is fundamentally discriminatory. Sanitary protection is essential for women and making it more expensive than it needs to be penalises women for menstruating.

I wholeheartedly support the end of the tampon tax – but there is another way to balance the financial scales back in our favour. We could opt out of tampons altogether. It’s not just the $25 million Australian women are handing over in GST. According to market research firm IBISWorld, the sanitary protection sector in Australia is worth a whopping $2.4 billion.

How do we opt out? It's simple: menstrual cups!

Menstrual cups are bell shaped silicone receptacles that sit inside the vagina and collect menstrual blood. Like vaginas, they come in different shapes and sizes. They are easy to use, although like tampons; take a bit of getting used to at first.

Now, obviously a menstrual cup will require a small financial investment. There are several brands to choose from, most cost in the region of $50. But over the course of ten years, that will save you around $550.

There are other reasons to get on board the menstrual cup wave. They are more environmentally friendly than tampons (the average woman uses 10,000-12,000 disposable menstrual products in their lifetime – and that’s not even factoring in the plastic wrapping). And they are better for our vaginas. Tampons can cause vaginal dryness because they absorb natural moisture as well as menstrual fluid. Menstrual cups, on the other hand, do not interfere with the vaginal environment.

Of course, there is the ick factor. We can’t get away from that. In fact, I have first hand experience of it. When my sister first told me about getting a menstrual cup I practically gagged at the thought.

I misunderstood how it would work in practice and couldn’t get my head round the logistics of using one in public. How will I wash it in a public toilet? I asked – I just couldn’t imagine standing at the sinks casually rinsing my blood stained menstrual cup while other women washed their hands.

But in the end, all the selling points of the menstrual cup won me over. It’s been more than three years now and I’ve never looked back. I love my cup to the point of evangelism.

No more hunting the house for tampons in the middle of the night. No more tugging on strings trying to expel a dry tampon on the last day of the cycle. No more bloody tampon tax! I’ve also had fewer leaks and can boast a better understanding of my menstrual cycle.

An unexpected benefit has been the conversation starter it has given me and my daughters. I haven’t had to sit them down to explain periods. Thanks to a dodgy lock on our bathroom door they are well versed in menstruation and all that goes with it. When we were camping recently, I got my period unexpectedly my six year old immediately understood my crestfallen face – “Oh no Mum! You haven’t got your cup!”

For some women, the menstrual cup has been life changing. The Cup Effect, a UK based project; have taken menstrual cups to women and girls in developing counties such as Kenya and Malawi. In some remote communities, menstruating women are not able to leave the house. For girls, this can mean missing several days of school per month.

While many assume that women in developing counties will reject menstrual cups for cultural reasons, The Cup Effect founder Mandu Reid has found the opposite to be true. Speaking to BBC4 this week she said it’s important not to make assumptions.

“I was warned off and told ‘culturally these things are impossible’ but actually what we find is that in every community we go into we are able to create more demand than we are able to service,” Reid said.

A change is coming, menstrual cups have got away from the ick factor and have gone mainstream. There are more brands available than ever before (surely testament to a big shift in attitude) and you can even pick one up at your local chemist.

Oh, and by the way, if you are still wondering about how to change a cup in a public restroom… you just tip away the blood and wipe the cup with tissue before re-inserting. Easy.

This story was found at: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/lifestyle/news-and-views/opinion/tanya-plibersek-wants-to-repeal-the-tampon-tax-but-we-can-do-better-20180308-p4z3gi.html