The ‘tampon tax’ is a tax imposed on essential menstrual products. As of 2007, the European Union allowed its members to amend the tax to a minimum 5% VAT, but many countries, including Italy, still apply a very high tax on products that are necessary for people who menstruate. 14 years have passed since that amendment, but the Italian government still applies 22% VAT. However, more and more Italians are starting to take action to reduce it.
The history of tampon tax in Italy and the fight to reduce it
In Italy, the tampon tax was introduced in 1973 at 10% VAT. Rather than being reduced, it has now increased to today’s 22% VAT.
To comprehend today’s situation, we must go back to 2016. In that year, politicians Beatrice Brignone, Giuseppe Civati, Andrea Maestri and Luca Pastorino, members of the Possibile party – whose program focuses on gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights and environmental protections – proposed a law dedicated to reducing the tampon tax. Beatrice Brignone declared that the 22% VAT was applied on products that were not considered essential, such as perfumes, bags and make-up products, but as she believed period products to be necessary, she hoped to reduce the tax to 4%. Although this proposal was followed by a petition signed by 67,266 people, it was not taken seriously by the government, despite the significant changes it would bring for people who menstruate.
Two years later, the Onde Rosa union, a group of young women working to fight the tampon tax, launched another petition which received almost half a million signatures. Again, the government made no changes. In that year’s legislature, it was the President of the Hygiene and Health Commission Pierpaolo Sileri who created the legal proposal, aiming to reduce the tax to 5%. But his attempt failed, too.
The fight continued in 2019. 32 deputies wrote an amendment for the fiscal Legislative Decree, demanding to reduce the tax, this time to 10%. The Financial Commission of the Chamber of Deputies found the proposal ‘unacceptable’, claiming it was not ‘pertinent to the topic of the fiscal decree’. Another amendment, presented by the Five Star Movement deputy Vita Matrinciglio, aimed to reduce the tax to 5%, but only for compostable and biodegradable tampons. Surprisingly, this amendment has been approved at the end of 2019. Yet, this was not enough.
Compostable tampons are just a subgroup of biodegradable menstrual products. They are more expensive than other products, and they are not easy to find. This means that the pads and tampons that are most often sold and used in Italy still have a 22% VAT. Furthermore, the Consorzio Italiano Compostatori, a European company that certify which products can be processed by composting machineries, affirmed in 2019 that no type of tampons and pads sold in Italy could be accepted by these machineries.
But how much money do people who menstruate have to spend on their period in Italy? The association Altroconsumo tried to answer this question. In 2019, their research estimated that the average cost per year of tampons is 70 euros. This affects an enormous proportion of the population: there are nearly 14 million women between 12 and 50 years old in Italy, as well as the trans men and non-binary people who menstruate, who are sometimes hidden within these statistics but are also affected by the disproportionately high tax on period products.
Other products such as razors, on the other hand, don’t have this problem. Their VAT is only 4%, just like other products considered ‘essential’, like milk and bread. And the failure of these attempts isn’t surprising considering, for example, what politician Francesco D’Uva said in mid-2019. He claimed he and his party (Five Star Movement) had some concerns about the environment, and so he suggested that women should use just menstrual cups or washable nappies instead of pads or tampons.
The last attempt was in December 2020, when deputy Laura Boldrini proposed an amendment to reduce the tax for all tampons. But it wasn’t passed. One of the first initiatives organized in 2021 to fight against tampon tax was launched by Coop, a large supermarket chain. From 6 to 13 March, Coop decided to discount all pads to simulate the price they would be if the applied tax was 4%.
At the same time, public opinion is also changing. In December 2020, the brand Nuvenia, part of the Swedish hygiene and health company Essity, released an advert showing a pad with blood on it. Usually, commercials don’t show the real colour of blood, choosing to create pads with blue instead. As Cosmopolitan reported, many people were outraged by this image, including many women. Period blood is still a taboo in Italy, and menstruation itself is associated with dirt and shame.
Just a month before, the company Lines that also produces pads launched an advert where you can hear some stereotypical and sexist sentences that women often have to hear, such as ‘You can’t gain the same amount of money as men’ or ‘You have to choose between having a family and having a job’. One of the faces of this commercial is well-known Italian singer Emma Marrone, who invites viewers to make a step forward by ending these stereotypes about women.
Another famous Italian singer who has been advocating against tampon tax is Francesca Michielin. She recently started her own podcast, called ‘Maschiacci’ (‘Tomboys’), where she interviews people of all genders to try to understand what many women are (still) fighting for today. In the second episode she talked with columnist, writer and activist Carlotta Vignali, and they both discuss the necessity of ending tampon tax.
The situation in Europe
While Italy is still fighting against tampon tax, other European countries have already gone forward. From last year, Germany has reduced it from 19% to 7%. At the beginning of this year, it was announced that the UK had abolished it, and in February it was announced that some university students in France will receive free menstrual products.
The hope is that Italy will soon follow this lead.