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Menstrual products are a necessity. Period.

Hard enough on poor without adding GST

Winnipeg Harvest's Chris Albi holds a bag of feminine hygiene products, something many clients can't afford.


Winnipeg Harvest's Chris Albi holds a bag of feminine hygiene products, something many clients can't afford.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/2/2015 (1957 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Every time I check out at the drugstore, I have the same thought: It sure costs a lot of money to host Aunt Flo. I've had my period 18 years and will likely have it for two more decades. Over my lifetime, I will spend a good chunk of change on the red dot.

For me, though, "that time of the month" is a minor inconvenience. For those who are living in poverty or are experiencing homelessness, it can be incredibly challenging. Many are forced to stretch their stocks of menstrual product, get creative or go without. And as anyone who has ever had to fashion an 'artisanal' maxi pad out of toilet paper because they had the misfortune of being marooned by the crimson tide without a pad or a quarter will tell you, this is neither an effective or comfortable alternative.

'It's one of the most–requested, least–received items'

During cold snaps such as the one we're currently experiencing, our charitable focus turns to warm clothing and food, but we shouldn't forget about pads and tampons when we're making donations to food banks or shelters. The demand for them is always high -- they are an essential need, after all -- but they are often forgotten about.

In January, Winnipeg Harvest had 6,909 requests for menstrual products. Just 125 of those requests were able to be filled. The organization breaks up boxes and bags in an effort to make supplies go around. That means each of those 125 people received about six to eight pads or tampons.

"It's one of the most-requested, least-received items," says Deb Swereda, an agency assistant at Winnipeg Harvest. She notes because menstrual products have long shelf lives, the major retailers from which Harvest reclaims goods can always sell them -- unlike, say, a dented can. And when it comes to personal donations, people tend to think food when they think Winnipeg Harvest, not menstrual -- or even general -- hygiene products.

Still, it's as Swereda says, if someone can help someone out with hygiene products, it can take the pressure off the household budget.

Osborne House, which provides a safe space for women experiencing, domestic abuse, and Resource Assistance for Youth (RaY), which works with street-entrenched youth up to the age of 29, also accept menstrual-product donations. Encouragingly, Alex White, director of communications and development at RaY, tells me the organization has never had trouble getting menstrual-product donations. RaY gives them out daily.

We know menstrual products are already expensive depending on income and method, sometimes prohibitively so. And if you are a Canadian who menstruates, you are also taxed on the products that allow you to function in regular society during Shark Week. In Manitoba, menstrual products are exempt from PST, but all Canadians who get periods pay five per cent GST on tampons, pads, panty liners and menstrual cups.

Menstrual products are not "luxuries." They are essential items that should not be subject to GST. Like groceries. Or, according to our government, wedding cakes. Most medical products, including incontinence products, are exempt. Menstrual products, strangely enough, don't count as medical products.

A Toronto group called No Tax on Tampons has taken up the cause of getting the GST removed from all menstrual products. It is gathering signatures via an online petition in support of Bill C-282, a private member's bill that, if passed, would see menstrual products be recognized as essential items and therefore exempt from the GST. The petition has almost 50,000 signatures. Bill C-282 was introduced by MP Irene Mathyssen in 2011 and again in 2013; before that, former MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis introduced a similar bill in 2004, calling the GST "gender-based taxation." That was more than 10 years ago and we're still having this conversation.

Data compiled by No Tax on Tampons found the Canadian government has made a lot of money off our uteri, collecting approximately $36,398,387 in government sales taxes from menstruating Canadians in 2014.

Of course, every time the idea of tax-free -- or, heaven forbid, completely subsidized -- menstrual products is brought up in the media, it's always greeted by a relatively small but vocal group of whiners whose cries of "it's not fair!" echo through comment sections. I'm reminded of that scene in Pretty in Pink in which Duckie exclaims: "What's this? We don't have a candy machine in the boy's room!" One commenter wrote the government shouldn't pander to this particular "special-interest group." While the Cherry Slush Club does sound very exclusive, half the population is a member.

You know what's really unfair? Being taxed because of one's biology. Not having access to basic necessities. That's unfair. It's insulting our government views tampons and pads as "non-essential" or "luxuries." No. A massage at a spa is a luxury. There's nothing particularly luxurious about a pad or a tampon, even the ones that are supposedly made from pearls and unicorn eyelashes. If they can't be free, they should at least be free of the GST.

And if you can afford to, buy an extra box next time you're out to help out a fellow red riding hood.


Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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Updated on Monday, February 23, 2015 at 6:44 AM CST: Replaces photo, fixes pull quote

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