Focus: Taxing tampons less?

Debate about justice - firewood and dog food are available with reduced VAT. For pads and tampons, on the other hand, it is 19 percent. Politicians want to change that

If things go similar to Australia, the tampon tax could be abolished by 2036. For 18 years, women there fought for a waiver of VAT on tampons and sanitary towels. The time has come since the beginning of this year: In Australia, hygiene products for women are tax-free.

Last year, two young SPD politicians in Germany started a campaign on the same topic. Nanna-Josephine Roloff and her party colleague Yasemin Kotra. The two met at a seminar that also dealt with VAT rates. The women found that tampons, sanitary towels, menstrual cups and pads are subject to the rate of 19 percent. They decided to do something about it. "You can do that in Australia, an entire continent. Why not here?" Asks Roloff.

90,000 signatures against taxes

The two politicians have now collected more than 90,000 signatures with their online campaign calling for the tampon tax to be reduced to seven percent. And thus obviously broached a topic that not only annoys women occasionally. "We knew that this would move people, but we didn't expect it to go through the roof like this."

In Germany, a VAT rate of 19 percent generally applies to goods or services. An exception is to be made for items of basic needs, which are subject to a reduced rate of 7 percent. However, the system is not always logically comprehensible. An example that regularly causes astonishment are cut flowers, which are taxed at 7 percent in this country.

Confusing benchmark for reduced tax rate

Dog food, domestic pigs and firewood are also subject to the reduced rate. Not so hygiene products like tampons or toilet paper, not even diapers, baby food or razor blades. The left-wing politician Sabine Zimmermann, chairman of the committee for family, senior citizens, women and youth and one of the addressees of the campaign, says: "The list for the reduced tax rate is absurd and arbitrary."

Lowering VAT on feminine hygiene products would be a step towards reducing the cost of menstruation. Depending on the calculation, a woman will end up paying dearly for her period in the course of her life. The Scottish MP Danielle Rowley spoke in the British Parliament of 550 euros a year. This included things that women say they will need during their periods, such as pain pills.

Disregard of the Basic Law

If you only take the average costs for tampons or sanitary towels as a basis, you end up with 350 to 1100 euros in life, depending on the product brand. The calculation assumes that a woman has her days between the ages of 13 and 51.

The fact that the state also earns money disregards Article 3 of the Basic Law, according to which no one may be disadvantaged or preferred because of their gender. "19 percent tax on tampons discriminates against women because they are everyday goods," says politician Zimmermann. Because: "If I go out of the house without menstrual products and everything is completely bleeding, it is neither pleasant for me nor for my fellow men," says Roloff.

Tampon tax in other countries: VAT rates on hygiene products for women compared

© W&B, istock / Fodor

When asked by the pharmacy Umschau at the Federal Ministry of Finance, a spokesman replied: "There are currently no plans to change the existing regulations." The authority told Nanna-Josephine Roloff that even if the tax were reduced, the savings would not reach consumers. The companies would not pass on the 12 percent savings.

Signatures should be effective for the public

For Roloff this argument does not work, but is "an admission of market failure - after all, according to the prevailing neoliberal paradigm, the market does not make mistakes, but regulates itself". Examples from other countries show that other reactions from companies are also conceivable. For example, the British supermarket chain Tesco has been taking over the tax on menstrual products for its customers for some time.

Roloff's next move: "We want to hand over the collected signatures to Federal Finance Minister Scholz in a way that is effective for the public." At the moment the project fails to make an appointment with the minister. "His office did not respond to several email inquiries."

The SPD politician is not discouraged by this. Just the fact that the topic of periods and the costs for it are discussed publicly is a gain. "So far you could get the impression that you were dealing with drugs if you asked another woman for a tampon and pushed it under the table." Not only that should change. And who knows, maybe things are going a little faster here than in Australia.