10 June 2015

The Politics of Menses #nlpoli

Until now, we had no idea how our governments valued menstruation.

Some of you might be surprised to think this was a question but now we have an answer.

Both the federal and provincial governments decided last month to remove the harmonised sales tax from tampons, napkins, and other feminine sanitary products.  In Newfoundland and Labrador, that added 13% on every purchase.

The government in Newfoundland and Labrador refused to put a value on the tax, but your humble e-scribbler is willing to take a shot at it.

There are 116,405 women in Newfoundland and Labrador between the ages of 15 and 49 years old.  That's the 2014 statistic from the provincial government's own statistics agency.  For the sake of capturing as many women as possible, including cases where parents are paying for sanitary products for their young daughters, let's add on the 21, 566 women between 50 and 54.

That gives us a total of 137,971.

Let's estimate that a woman will spend about $10 a month for the product of her choice.  The 13% HST on that would be $1.30 each month or $15.60 a year.

In total, both the federal and provincial governments have decided to give up $2,152,347.60. The provincial share of that is $1, 324, 521.60.

Not a lot of money, is it?

Basically, it works out to 80 cents each month for each woman between the ages of  15 and 55 for the province.  The federal government gave up its 50 cents for each woman.

This is one of those little bits of retail politics that political parties love these days.  It is simple to do, costs virtually nothing, and people think you have done them an enormous favour. Undoubtedly, there are people out there who will give up a vote for that 50 cents or that 80 cents.

Incidentally, the folks at change.org who organised part of the campaign to get the tax lifted actually frigged up the mathematics.  Their figures for the total spent each year and the population of women works out to a mere $29 per year or a twonie and a bit a month.  Their figure for the number of women in Newfoundland and Labrador is actually the total number of women.  The columns in the government statistics are clearly labelled.  You would really have to work hard to screw that up.

And even an old white male like your humble e-scribbler knows enough to realise two bucks a month is not a real figure.  A big clue should have been the other change.org tampon tax campaigns.  In the United Kingdom, for example, they show a woman spending six euros a month or almost nine dollars Canadian.

Anyway,  the people out there who thought this tax cut was a great idea are probably feeling like they got snowed.

They did.

The reality is that the federal and provincial governments place very little value on women. Well, very little if we judge the governments by their willingness to remove a unique cost for women that the governments apparently continue to treat as a luxury item.

Your humble e-scribbler first raised the issue of free tampons last year.  Some of you might recall the article by Jessica Valenti, a columnist at The Guardian.  Here are some choice quotes:

  • UNICEF estimates 10% of African girls don’t attend school during their periods”
  • One study showed that in Bangladesh, 73% of female factory workers miss an average of six days – and six days of pay – every month because of their periods.”
  • “In the United States, access to tampons and pads for low-income women is a real problem, too: food stamps don’t cover feminine hygiene products, so some women resort to selling their food stamps in order to pay for “luxuries” like tampons.”
So if the government was a wee bit serious about this as an issue of public health and public policy, they should be able to do better than 80 cents a month.

Women in Newfoundland and Labrador spend a little over $33 million a year on sanitary products, if the figures used here are anything close to correct.  Let's put them on the same basis as men and wipe that out.  The simplest way to do it would be to give women a credit of $10 a month on their income tax.  As they fill out the forms, they can claim it back not as a reduction on their taxable income but as a flat amount to which they are entitled as a matter of course. Women or men with dependent children can claim the credit on their child's behalf.


Job done.

Now let's see if any political party in the province will take up that kind of policy commitment.