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17th November 2015

It starts with tampons, but where will it end?

Deborah Asamoah examines the gender imbalance that permeates our parliament and the resultant unfairness that it creates

When you think of ‘luxury’ you picture something lavish, with a great deal of expense. Something that is perhaps enjoyed as a treat from time to time, or as a ‘one-off’.


I don’t necessarily think that myself, along with 32.2 million other women in the UK, squeal with sheer and utter excitement at the thought of purchasing our monthly menstrual necessities. However, our nation’s MPs seem to think so, recently voting against an amendment to remove VAT tax on these products. That is to say that the five per cent VAT rate that is added onto what is considered as ‘non-essential items’, would have been discarded.

What infuriates me as well as many others in the UK, both men and women, is that in this day and age, in the face of other cuts, something as necessary as ‘sanitary plugs’ are deemed as ‘non-essential’. What adds insult to injury was that in light of all the things we do pay VAT on, such as ‘luxurious’ tampons, the items we don’t have to pay VAT on are even more unnecessary and futile than our sanitary requirements will ever be.

These goods include edible cake decorations, a ticket to the zoo, and my favourite: Yes, you’ve guessed it, crocodile meat. I’m sure women in Britain are really agonising over the choice of buying crocodile meat over tampons on their weekly trip to the supermarket.

This has caused me to call into question the decision-making bodies that decide how our money is spent in Britain. Still in the 21st century, after years of advancement in equal rights of women, there still seems to be a lack of regard for women and their physical health.

What’s more, with the House of Commons being heavily dominated by men—a recent report shows that after the General Election 2015 the ratio of male MPs to female MPs was 459 men to 191 women—perhaps the unfairness of tax amendments is reflective of the disproportionate number of men to women in parliament.

Furthermore, it also sheds light on the self-serving attitudes that some of these men in parliament have, who value tax reform over the basic needs of women. It should not be overlooked, as their actions speak volumes about how we as women are viewed in today’s society.

This subject in particular brought my attention to the idea of ‘gender visibility’. In translation theory, it refers to the power imbalance in language, where feminine attributes have derivative status to masculine attributes. For example in French, a group containing at least one male or one masculine noun is considered masculine, and takes the pronoun ‘ils’. That is to say that even a group which is predominantly female with just one male loses its gender visibility, and thus its entire feminine status is disregarded.

Similarly, this concept can be applied to the final say on our essentials that continue to incur VAT; it takes just one male to make an authoritative decision on how our spending is dictated, so how much more with 459? It is quite evident to me that there is an element of disequilibrium concerning the amount of power women in parliament have on these matters. While we live in a world of male-dominated politics, the role of women in the House of Commons has the right to be more prominent. Moreover, our concerns and needs should not fall on deaf ears, especially not in the day and age in which our country prides itself on being liberal and democratic.

It is, then, important to note that if a predominately male government can begin to make such harsh and unfair decisions regarding our necessary sanitary requirements, who knows what the future holds for other necessities that may be overlooked? Perhaps we will witness a future of higher spending on nuclear weapons at the expense of cuts to our essential welfare care system? It starts with tampons—but where will it end?

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