Late last month a petition received over 104,000 signatures to remove the tax on feminine hygiene products and amend the Federal law that currently considers them a “luxury” item.
The fight against the GST dubbed the “tampon tax”, has previously been fought and either lowered or removed in Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom, but rejected twice already in Australia.
Heading the movement is Rochelle Courtenay, founder of the not-for-profit organisation, Share the Dignity.
Courtenay says the difference this time is that the movement has a groundswell and is systematically going through judicial and political systems rather than previous attempts of online petitions such as change.org.
Courtenay founded the organisation in 2015 after reading about women in Australia who were suffering every month because they couldn’t afford sanitary items.
Those worse affected include homeless women and indigenous communities, who Courtenay says are using products for an unhealthy extended amount of time and using old and dirty towels each month.
“Is that not against our health?” she asked.
“Everybody has the right to have access to sanitary items, it’s a fundamental human right.”
Courtenay says the government is not doing enough to combat this issue and politicians are “uneducated” when it comes to the reality of menstruation for disadvantaged women.
“The tampon tax infuriates me because it’s a bunch of men, who don’t want to talk about periods… Malcolm Turnbull once turned his head in shame that I’d actually said the word to him in public,” she says.
The failure for the government to properly address the issue Courtenay says is a large reason why it’s considered taboo to openly discuss it.
“This is a monthly issue and nobody wants to talk about it,”
“It’s so unsexy that mainstream media won’t even touch it,” she says.
As a mother of two girls herself, Courtenay says the education system does not spend enough time teaching children about menstruation.
“Menstruation is something that affects everybody. Even if you don’t have a period you came from somebody who does,” she says.
The organisation is currently installing sanitary vending machines throughout schools and shelters in Australia made possible through donations and fundraising.
The process of creating the free feminine hygiene packs for machines is long and tedious Courtenay says, as they must reach the health standards of the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) as they fall under a medical item.
The irony is not lost on Courtenay who says it’s contradictory for Australian law to deem sanitary items as a luxury, where the TGA deems them medical.
Courtenay is preparing to travel to Canberra to meet with the state ministers and gain their support on the issue before it’s tabled in parliament.
She says she’s confident at this stage, having the public support of The Greens and having spoken to ministers on the topic in the past.
“I just hope that we get to do this for the very last time in Australia because it’s embarrassing.”