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Cristiana Scoppa and Nathalie Galesne
In Italy, the number of people experiencing economic vulnerability tripled between the years 2005 and 2021, increasing from 1.9 to 5.6 million people – which is equivalent to 10% of the total population. In such a context, it is easy to imagine the difficulties faced by the poorest women in the Italian peninsula who have to purchase, every month, the personal sanitary products they need.
The price of these products in supermarkets generally ranges from 1.5 to 6 euros per item, depending on quality, the number of pads per box, and the brand. These products are limited to traditional cellulose-based sanitary pads and tampons.
Only the Carrefour supermarket chain offers period panties. No other market sells period underwear or any type of washable sanitary pads.
In 2016, when representative of the Democratic Party Giuseppe Civati wanted to reduce the value-added tax on sanitary menstrual products from 22% to 4%, his initiative was met with mockery, derision, and puzzled looks. However, in 2019, thanks to the commitment of then-Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies Laura Boldrini, this “tampon tax” was reduced by about 5% for biodegradable pads, simultaneously encouraging women to buy more environmentally friendly products.
Activists in the Non una di meno feminist movement fought a real and fierce battle for this budget cut, expressing their indignation at the fact that the VAT on tampons was much higher than that applied to male hygiene products, which ranges from 4% to 10%.
Other associations such as Tocca a noi and Onde rosa also launched important campaigns, like the Tampon Tax Tour which passed through forty Italian cities and was accompanied by sit-ins and public meetings. The Onde rosa association, which was founded by a 25-year-old woman, succeeded in collecting over 600,000 signatures demanding a tax cut. The city of Milan also hosted the “Menstrual Cycle Festival” that lasted three days and consisted of seminars, performing arts shows, and theatre performances, all aimed at mobilizing popular opinion and breaking decades-long taboos associated with menstruation.
Last year, 2022 was a major turning point: VAT on sanitary pads and tampons was reduced by 10%, and these measures were also reaffirmed in 2023 by the Giorgia Meloni government. This reduction is quite significant, considering that a woman uses between 10 thousand and 14 thousand sanitary pads or tampons throughout her lifetime.
Despite all this, we are still far from the 6% rate that was applied in Portugal and Belgium and the 5.5% rate in France – not to mention the complete abolition of the tax on tampons adopted by the Irish government.
In conclusion, let us recall that Italian women have been affected by this crisis more than others. In March 2022, only 52.1% of Italian women had a job, and 29.7% of women were suffering from unemployment. It is therefore evident that, for the most destitute women in the Italian Peninsula, handling the expenses that come with menstruation is still a daunting and exhausting task.
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