Australia

Why I started Australia's 'tampon tax' campaign

Image caption Subeta Vimalarajah (left) decided to fight for exemption from tax after previous campaigns failed

The Australian treasurer Joe Hockey is to ask state and territory governments to remove the consumption tax on tampons and other sanitary products.

The move was prompted after an online petition asking the government to stop taxing a "bodily function" attracted about 90,000 signatures.

Student Subeta Vimalarajah explains why she has taken on the government.

I was born in Sri Lanka and came to Australia with my parents when I was one. I was interested in politics from a young age, but it wasn't until I got to Sydney University and started living in Newtown that I actualised my passion for social justice. This year I'm one of the women's officers and on the student representative's council.

That has given me the opportunity to interact with passionate young people who are always looking for ways to change the world, as well as giving me experience with activism and campaigning.

I was aware there had been previous campaigns to abolish the tax, such as in 2013, but I'd assumed that it had since been removed. When I realised that was not the case, I thought Mr Hockey's tax review would be the perfect opportunity to draw attention to this issue.

Not only have I had more than 90,000 signatures on the petition, but 11,000 submissions have been sent to Mr Hockey's tax review.

"Tampon tax" in other countries

I think that previous campaigns have definitely helped with the success of my own, but didn't have the benefit of the tax review and the unique opportunity it presents to communicate our concerns to the treasurer - which has clearly worked. Mr Hockey gave the closest to a commitment to remove the tax of any politician in the last decade.

Although I've had a positive response so far, I'm not willing to stop campaigning until we've got the result we want - a legislative change that would exempt sanitary products from the tax. I don't want all the energy of my supporters, friends, family and campaigns in the past to feel like it has gone to waste.

Australia's public consciousness has changed so much, making the likelihood of this change greater.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Joe Hockey has given his support for a push to exempt sanitary products from tax

I've definitely had the experience of going to the supermarket to buy a box of tampons and being frustrated that I need to pay for them, but more significantly that the government is making a profit on my period. The biggest factor that annoys me is the inconsistency.

It's one thing to make everything taxable, but it's different when the government has identified "important" health goods as exempt, but refuses to acknowledge sanitary products as in this category. I can't see the distinction between incontinence pads, sunscreen and condoms (which are exempt) and sanitary products.

I'm so grateful for all the people who have supported me, and I've learnt so much throughout the course of this campaign.

One supporter sent me an email explaining the history that women in her family have with endometriosis, which has required them to pay large medical bills, in addition to sanitary products for periods that last three weeks of every month. Likewise, I've become more aware of other specifically affected groups such as homeless women who find the costs prohibitive.

It's been great to get such a positive response from the treasurer. I really appreciate how forthcoming he was about his support. I've also heard that five of the eight state/territory treasurers have said they would support removing the tax, with the other three not ruling out the possibility.

Someone who does still seem hesitant is our prime minister - Tony Abbott. Hopefully he can recognise this is an easy change that would mean a lot to everyday Australians.

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