When French lawmakers voted down an amendment in October that would have slashed a tax on tampons and other women's hygiene items, activists took to the streets of Paris to protest what they saw as an unfair charge on products that are essential to half the country's population. Now, the government seems to have had a change of heart—and feminist groups are claiming victory.
Following months of outrage, France's National Assembly on Friday ruled in favor of reducing the country's tax on tampons and sanitary pads from 20 to 5.5 percent, Agence France-Press reported. Despite opposition from lawmakers who argued that the country would lose millions of dollars a year without the tax, Prime Minister Manuel Valls supported the decision, calling it a "step in the right direction." While the tax wasn't cut entirely, the new lowered rate is equivalent to the French national consumption tax levied on non-luxury items including food, water, nonalcoholic beverages, and even books.
Taxes on women's hygiene products have increasingly spurred protests around the world this year. Many activists reason that the tax financially punishes women, who on average earn about a quarter less than their male counterparts globally, according to a United Nations report released in April. Last month, a group of students in the United Kingdom publicly opposed the country's 5 percent tax on tampons and other women's sanitary products by "free bleeding"—forgoing tampons or pads—on the steps of Parliament.
Just weeks after the protests in England, George Osborne, a member of Parliament, drew criticism when he defended the tax by announcing that the revenue from it would be donated to women's charities. While that may seem like a noble effort, some critics argued that the government should already be financing women's programs rather than leaving it to taxpayers to do so. Petitions to scrap the tax have also been launched in Australia, the United States, and Canada, which in May voted to halt the tax on feminine hygiene products.
The ruling in France comes less than a year after the women's rights group Georgette Sand launched a campaign aimed at overturning the tax—which it called an injustice—and an accompanying online petition that garnered more than 27,000 signatures. In a surprisingly catchy music video for a disco song called "Laissez-moi saigner," which translates to "Let Me Bleed," the group said that women are losing money because of the government's unnecessary tax on menstruation-related products. "You create taxes which don't concern you," the group sang. "You forget that I'm paid lower than you."