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English Version | How much does it cost to be a woman?

07 May 2021
By Ana Saldanha

From the gender pay gap to pink tax, being a woman in a world made by and for men has a cost. And we pay the bills monthly.

From the gender pay gap to pink tax, being a woman in a world made by and for men has a cost. And we pay the bills monthly.

A person who menstruates will spend around 900 euros on menstrual products throughout their fertile life. There are several countries in which products like pads and tampons are taxed as luxury goods. On average, women use seven times more hygiene products than men. In the meantime, they earn less and still pay a fee which is a legal and normalized form of oppression. This is the price we pay for being born women. But the woman who is right now writing to you acknowledges the privilege of being able to talk about this subject instead of being part of the millions of women around the world who are dealing with the scarcity of menstrual products - a problem that has become even worse with the pandemic. A report by the organization Plan International conducted in May of the last year revealed that about three-quarters of health professionals in the 30 countries surveyed reported a shortage of intimate hygiene products and 58% mentioned high and prohibitive prices. In the same month, the Menstrual Health Alliance of India published a study detailing that about a quarter of the women surveyed, in India and some African countries, did not have access to any menstrual in the first months of the pandemic. But we don't need to travel that far away. A 2017 survey by Plan International also showed that in Scotland 10% of teenagers were unable to afford menstrual products and that many missed school for this reason. In the same year Scotland became the first country to make menstrual products available free of charge in schools and universities and in November last year, the country made history by being the first to make menstrual products free - which are now available in community centers, youth associations, and pharmacies and freely accessible to anyone who needs them. The decision was applauded and proved inspiring to many who followed in its footsteps. Last month it was the turn of the supermarket chain Lidl, in Ireland, to make its menstrual products available for free to those who need them, after a report published in February by the Irish Department of Health revealed that about 85,000 women and girls are in risk of menstrual poverty, with homeless people and people struggling with addiction problems being even more affected by this.

“In June of 2016, I had the opportunity to participate in the 'Tax is a Feminist Issue' conference in the European Parliament that. In debate, many studies clearly demonstrate how fiscal policies impact women and contribute to gender asymmetries and the situation of poverty in which many women find themselves. The gender dimension in taxes is often ignored, and one of the clearest examples is the taxes on menstrual products (pink tax) that do not consider them as essential products. It was an important moment to reflect on aspects that I was not aware of, such as the pink tax. This is a topic that isn’t really discussed and almost 5 years later, it is rarely mentioned - even less if we focus on the Portuguese context. But it is important to mention that at least there has already been some discussion on gender-sensitive budgets”, says Carla Cerqueira, a researcher on gender and media studies. In Portugal, the Bloco de Esquerda party presented, in May of last year, a project that would aim to make menstrual products available free of charge in health centers and schools as a measure to fight menstrual poverty, but almost a year later there have been no advances in this regard. “In Portugal, tampons, sanitary pads, and menstrual cups pay a 6% VAT rate, but in the rest of the European Union, there is a huge disparity, which reveals that this is still not a subject on the agenda. It is necessary to conduct an international campaign to raise awareness for the issue, showing that it is not a choice to use this type of product and therefore they should be exempt from paying VAT so that women are not penalized in terms of the tax charges. We can say that the rates that are applied to feminine hygiene products and that do not consider them as essential products end up being legalized forms of oppression against women. Women need these products and the investment they have to make in them daily contributes to putting them in a situation of economic fragility. Many women in Europe still have to pay 23% VAT on these types of products and, in many cases, their income, which is often lower, is being taxed at the same level as men. And the most curious thing is that it remains a topic that is not talked about and that people, namely women, are not very aware of, and that happens precisely because it is something that is normalized”, explains Carla. Speaking of the pandemic, the researcher reinforces that the crises are not gender-neutral and that the pandemic did not affect everyone equally: “there are several spheres where gender asymmetries are accentuated. If women are in a situation of greater economic fragility, accentuated by the pandemic, this will also be reflected in the so-called menstrual poverty, as their resources are scarce but they still have to purchase these products they cannot live without”. And menstrual poverty and economic asymmetries are completely intertwined with another problem: the gender pay gap. “We have to realize that this tax (pink tax) is applied to about half of the population, who are women. When we buy feminine hygiene products or others that are specifically targeted towards women and that we need, we are paying more, placing ourselves in a situation of greater poverty. In addition, several studies in different contexts show how women continue to receive less and that gender asymmetries in the work field remain evident. In addition, they are penalized with these fees when purchasing certain products that are essential goods. Therefore, we easily understand how the gender pay gap and the pink tax can relate, that is, the whole panorama we live in ends up accentuating the economic asymmetries between men and women even more ”, says the expert.

However, to start the conversation about menstrual poverty, it is first necessary to start by talking about menstruation itself, a subject that still carries the weight of being taboo, something that is not talked about, that is not shown, that should be hidden. “I believe that this is one of the central issues because the stigma that persists leads this theme to remain in darkness in several spheres. Voices occasionally arise, even from the political field and in the European Parliament I know that some work is being done but this still has little impact in terms of the policies to be implemented. However, it should be noted that some activists have been promoting campaigns with strong public visibility and managed to put pressure on governments in this regard. One of the cases that I can remember in the United Kingdom, but the changes do not happen overnight. In Portugal, from what I know, I haven't seen movements mobilizing themselves in this sense in a systematic way, but some voices occasionally come forward regarding the deconstruction of the stigma that still exists around menstruation, and which refer to this need for free menstrual products. For example the documentary mini-series O Meu Sangue by Tota Alves, which addresses issues related to menstruation and was shown on RTP Play. In addition, several feminist associations are also beginning to speak about issues related to gender asymmetries at a fiscal level, where this issue enters, and also about see menstruation differently. It seems that there is still a long way to go for this topic to gain space in the public sphere and to bring up the topic about structural changes”, concludes Carla.

Menstrual poverty is one of the ramifications of the tampon tax, which is part of the pink tax. Speaking of the tampon tax, the name given to the tax charged on menstrual products, in Portugal it is 6% - the same VAT rate applied to all essential goods such as bread, milk, meat and vegetables, medicine, and public transport. But in Hungary, for example, the rate applied to sanitary pads, tampons, and menstrual cups is 27%, the maximum VAT applied in the country, as is the 22% VAT that women pay in Italy or the 19% that pay in Germany. In Spain, menstrual products are taxed at 10%, which is the intermediate rate also applied in restaurants and hotels. This means that in all these countries the products that a woman is dependent on every month for about 40 years of her life are considered luxury goods. And as for the pink tax, this refers to the extra amount charged on products similar to those that exist for men (and that often only change color, to pink, of course, and get a For Her stamp on the packaging). In 2015, the New York Department of Consumer Affairs launched the report From Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Consumer, a study that investigated the prices of products based on gender in categories such as toys, accessories, children's clothing, adult clothing, and hygiene and health care products. Among the findings, the study revealed that in similar toys from the same brands those that were marketed to girls cost 7% more than boys. Women's clothing is 8% more expensive and beauty products are 13% more expensive when marketed to women. With 4%, the category of products with the lowest price difference was baby and children's clothing. In none of the categories of products analyzed did "male" products cost more than "female" products. It’s a man's world, of course, and women still pay a lot just for living here.

Translated from the original on the "Pink Issue", from may 2021.Full credits and story on the print version.

Ana Saldanha By Ana Saldanha

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