When Parliament recently voted against scrapping the "tampon tax", we knew something had to be done. A new approach was needed. If everyone knew what it was like to have a period, we thought, then society would change for the better. We wanted to do something about it, but there was a slight catch – making everyone know what it's really like to bleed from your genitals every month isn't just easier said than done, it's pretty much impossible. But adding to the debate, and raising awareness in an eye-catching way – that could work. The only question was: how?
In the end it was relatively simple. On Friday, we put on some light and comfy trousers, and forwent our tampons. Emphasising our point with a little fake blood to add to our own, we stood outside on Parliament Square for everyone to see.
We know it was gross and uncomfortable for people to look at, but that was the point. We wanted to show everyone how un-luxurious periods are. Some of us suffer crippling cramps and flows heavy enough to make us wake up thinking we've wet the bed. Is there anyone out there who can honestly deny that tampons are a necessity, and should be taxed as such?
Aside from the occasional dirty look and jeers thrown out of passing cars, the responses we received were positive. A few passers-by asked to take our picture. One person wanted a photo in case we "became famous like Pussy Riot”. People also stopped to ask us about our campaign. Often they asked what they could do to help, and wished us luck.
This isn't to say that the response was completely positive, however. Unsurprisingly, the biggest backlash came from social media. Many people online claimed that we had no chance of making Parliament change its mind, but that wasn't actually our main point. We were never planning on waving our banners and bloody trousers in the face of passing MPs, or under any pretence that we could magically change politicians' minds. All we wanted was awareness.
This isn't a case of "three women protesting outside Parliament with bloody trousers". This is a case of three people recognising the tampon tax as being unfair, and building on all the great work that has already been done by campaigners to create change. It's about encouraging more and more people to talk about the tax, and the impact it has on people.
To our delight, this has so far been very successful. Charlie's original Facebook post has been shared now over 15,000 times. We've had messages from all over the UK supporting our cause, as well as people from across the EU who also have to deal with the tax. There's even been well-wishers from Canada, where campaigners have successfully lobbied for their version of the tax to be scrapped.
The tax might "only" be 5 per cent, but it still has a considerable impact on those who are struggling to make ends meet. For someone with an "average" period – bleeding for five days, once a month, 12 times a year, for 38 years – the average cost of menstrual products could come to more than £1,500. This means that the tax would be around £79. However, for someone who has a heavier period, this total could reach up to £190. And this isn't even considering those with irregular periods, who bleed more than once a month. So even though it may seem insignificant, for those living under the poverty line, where pennies can make all the difference, having a period can become financially unsustainable. What's more, regardless of your income, you can pick up condoms for free anytime, because we've all agreed that being able to practice safe should never come at a cost. Why shouldn't it be the same for tampons?
We're not naive. We know the Government can only do so much as this is an EU law. But with so many petitions all over the world gaining support (including a UK-based one that has over 270,000 supporters), we're heading towards a tipping point. Soon, something has to give. So we'll keep lobbying and protesting, because eventually our voices will be heard, and the tax on tampons abolished once and for all. All we need to do is keep the debate going – no matter how gross it may be.
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