When the Bundestag voted to reduce the tax on menstrual products, such as tampons and sanitary towels, it was a landmark moment in Germany – especially for campaigners who had battled for the change.
“The decision empowers women to think about their period as not something they need to hide,” Hamburg-based campaigner Nanna-Josephine Roloff, 28, tells The Local.
So what else does it mean for women in Germany?
“We, first of all, have to pay a bit less for our supplies,” Roloff says. “But it also means that we got the parliament to talk about tampons. Think about that: it’s such a big thing.
“When you see the discussion (in the Bundestag) there were a lot of women wearing red dresses, red scarfs, red shirts, red jackets on that day. They showed solidarity through their clothes.”
A ‘luxury’ product?
Menstrual products have long been taxed at the 19 percent value-added-tax (VAT) rate in Germany. However, a reduced rate of seven percent applies to certain foods, books, magazines, cut flowers and other items deemed ‘essential’.
Many argued that the higher ‘luxury’ tax rate on menstrual items is unfair and discriminatory because many women have no choice but to buy these items on a regular basis.
“The higher tax rate on these products amounts to fiscal discrimination of women based on their sex, which is not allowed by the Constitution,” said Roloff and fellow-campaigner Yasemin Kotra on their petition which gathered more than 190.000 signatures.
As well as the petition, campaigners lobbied politicians, gathered facts, researched extensively and tried to raise awareness in Germany.
It was a long road and two years worth of work. But Roloff and Kotra managed to secure a meeting with Finance Minister Olaf Scholz in October who backed their drive, signalling a major success in the campaign.
The Bundestag decision was approved by Germany’s upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat at the end of last month. It means the sales tax on sanitary products will be reduced from 19 percent to seven percent from January 1st 2020.
‘Menstruation still a taboo’
Getting German politicians talking about periods is a big step in the right direction, says Roloff. But there’s a lot more work to be done.
“Now we move to the the next steps,” says Roloff. “Menstruation is still a taboo. We still don’t talk openly about our periods. That’s the next big thing to deal with.”
Roloff says the aim is to work with Germany’s states to introduce free menstrual products in public buildings, such as schools, hospitals, prisons and council offices.
“Everywhere where the state is involved there should be tampons and pads like there is toilet paper,” she says.
Why is Germany lowering the ‘tampon tax’ now?
Countries and states across the world, including Kenya, Canada, India and Australia, have already got rid of the tax on menstrual products, while others, such as France, Spain and the UK, have reduced it.
So pressure has been building on countries that are yet to take action.
Roloff puts the changes down to a new push for equality by activists across the world.
“We had #MeToo and now I think there’s a new wave of women’s movements for all rights – not just the basic rights,” she says.
“You are allowed to vote or to work, but women want more rights for actual equality. The ‘tampon tax’ fits into this whole topic: empowerment and self determination, my body my choice, in this whole picture.”
‘Next logical step’
As well as monitoring the reduced tax due to come into force next year, Roloff is gearing up for the next stage in the campaign.
“Now that we don’t have tampon tax anymore we can’t just stop, we need to go further,” she says.
“Our main topic is to get rid of the taboo about menstruation. Part of that is to normalize supplies everywhere. That’s just the next logical step to fight for.”