Free tampons: Will the Czech Republic go with the flow?

The Czech PM is calling for the country to follow Scotland's lead; either way monthly supplies are getting cheaper

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas
Published on 26.11.2020 13:12 (updated on 26.11.2020)

The Czech media has begun speculating when the Czech Republic will follow the lead of England, New Zealand, and -- most recently -- Scotland by providing free access to tampons.

A law passed unanimously by Scottish lawmakers this week introduces the right to free pads, tampons, and other menstrual hygiene supplies in Scotland, home to roughly 5.5 million people. Monthly supplies will be available, in schools, universities, offices, and other public buildings. A Czech variation could look a little different if one is adopted at all. 

Czech Prime Minster Andrej Babiš said in a Tweet Wednesday evening that Czech journalists had asked him if a similar initiative could work in the Czech Republic. The PM tweeted, "For the most vulnerable for sure" and called on Finance Minister Alena Schillerová too look into it.

"Scotland will be the first country in the world to pay for all women menstrual aids. They want to break down this stigma and fight poverty. Journalists ask me if such a thing would be possible in our country as well. For the weakest, for sure. I asked @alenaschillerova to find a solution," the PM wrote.

On Tuesday, Scotland became the first country in the world to offer free sanitary products for anyone who needs them after a four-year campaign to end "period poverty," something that refers to a woman's inability to afford feminine hygiene products which can in turn negatively impact her education and employment options while leading to feelings of humiliation and stigma.

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In recent years, activists around the world have been taking aim at the "tampon tax" which pushes pads and tampons into high sales tax brackets, in some cases even declaring them luxury items, a practice that is widely deemed as discriminatory.

In early 2020 Germany, which had one of the highest tampon taxes in the world, reclassified tampons from "luxury goods" to "essential items" to bring down the VAT. According to Statista, in the past 12 months, three Eastern and Central European countries -- Poland, the Czech Republic and Lithuania -- have lowered the "tampon tax" to 5 percent.

Infographic: Where the You will find more infographics at Statista

England and New Zealand have both made tampons free in schools (and maintain low tampon taxes) while Ireland and Canada have no tampon tax. In the U.S. a period tax still exists in 35 states.

Not everyone finds the idea of subsidizing monthly supplies a good idea. In March, when the free-tampon legislation was initiated by Scottish lawmakers, Czech publication iDnes conducted a poll asking its readers what they thought of the idea.

The issue provoked a heated debate on social networks and the Scottish government's move was critcized by a number of commenters. Mainly men. "When women get pads and tampons, men should get shaving foam and razors," one poster commented.

Despite the PM's suggestion, Czech server TN.cz reached out to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Health who said the introduction of a similar plan is not happening in the Czech Republic anytime soon.

"At the moment, the Ministry of Health is not considering this option. In addition, it is also necessary to state that menstrual needs are not medical devices, and therefore they cannot now be covered by public health insurance," Ministry of Health spokesperson Klára Doláková told the publication.

While free period supplies may not be available in the Czech Republic for a while to come, the People In Need project is currently holding its annual fundraiser which lets donors purchase vouchers to help vulnerable women buy feminine hygiene products. Find out how to donate here.