But that is set to change, following a landmark vote in the German parliament Thursday.
The government, apparently swayed by a growing equal rights campaign, says the sales tax on sanitary products like tampons and pads will be reduced from next year.
From January 1, 2020, the amount of tax on sanitary items will be cut from 19% (for luxury goods) to 7% (the rate for daily necessities).
Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told reporters at a press briefing last month: “Many women campaigned for this and now we’re making it happen.”
‘It’s women who bear the costs’
For equal rights campaigners Nanna-Josephine Roloff and Yasemin Kotra, it’s a victory years in the making.
And that’s doesn’t take into account all the associated costs like pain relief, replacement underwear, and sick days from work and school.
“It is the women who bear these costs — and periods are no luxury for women,” Roloff told CNN.
Instead, the tax is “systematic discrimination” against women and girls, the 28-year-old PR consultant from Hamburg added.
“Products like salmon, caviar, truffles, hotel nights or taxi rides are taxed lower than female hygiene products,” she said. “But how should women avoid their period?”
Tweeting after parliament’s vote, Roloff celebrated the win, writing: “We made it: Germany will stop taxing menstrual products by 2020. I am crying.”
Creative campaign methods
While the campaign had overwhelmingly positive support from “all sides, including men,” Roloff said, it was also the target of abuse.
The campaigners faced “really bad and tasteless comments” online, said Roloff. Anonymous comments like “why don’t you take out your womb, so you no longer have this issue,” were posted on their petition site, she added.
Over the years, activists have come up with creative ways to get their message across.
The campaigners from the Female Company, which sells organic sanitary products, later sent 100 copies of the book to members of parliament.
Tampon tax around the world
Germany now looks set to follow in the footsteps of France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands which either plan to, or have already, slashed their taxes in recent years.
Globally, just a handful of countries have zero tax added to sanitary products, including Canada, India, Kenya and several US states. Most recently, Australian lawmakers last month voted to scrap the country’s tax following an almost two-decade campaign by activists.
For Roloff, the tampon tax is part of a bigger picture of inequality around the world. “It shows the misogyny that is still very prevalent in our society today,” she said.
For now, Roloff already has her eyes set on a new campaign.
“Free menstrual items in all public facilities,” she said. Places like “schools, hospitals, government offices, public toilets.”
“You see toilet paper everywhere — no one is expected to run around the world with a roll of toilet paper — but nowhere are tampons to be found,” Roloff added.
“As far as equality is concerned, the women in front of us have already achieved a great deal,” said Roloff. “So we should not rest on that.”