Following Scotland's landmark ruling, Czechia reignites the debate on free period products

With Scottish lawmakers moving to end the "period poverty" cycle, Czech lawmakers are pushing for similar legislastion.

Kathrin Yaromich

Written by Kathrin Yaromich Published on 30.08.2022 15:02:00 (updated on 30.08.2022) Reading time: 4 minutes

Scotland has become the first country in the world to make menstrual products free for all. Public facilities, including schools and universities, now have a legal duty to provide free tampons and sanitary pads to anyone who needs them. 

The law came into force on Aug. 15, 2022, after Scottish lawmakers passed the Period Products bill in November 2022 – a landmark victory for the global movement against period poverty. 

Given the current record-high inflation and the fact that period costs aren't negligible, some Czech lawmakers are now pushing for a Czech version of the Scottish "period-products bill," re-igniting the public debate on whether women have a legal right to free menstrual products.

The 'tampon tax' debate in Czechia continues

In 2016, the association petitioned the government to introduce a zero tax. At the time, however, the Ministry of Finance rejected discussions about lowering VAT, saying that exceptions to the basic rules of the VAT system should only be made minimally and in justified cases and that the tax cut will not necessarily make products cheaper. The department restated the same opinion in 2019.

What is period poverty? Period poverty is defined by the World Health Organization as “inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education, including but not limited to sanitary products, washing facilities, and waste management." The term also refers to the increased economic vulnerability women and girls face due to the financial burden posed by menstrual supplies.

Two years ago, when the first mentions of the Scottish law appeared, then Prime Minister Andrej Babiš announced that he would ask Alena Schillerová to explore the options for Czechia as well. However, the plan to reduce VAT on pads and tampons failed to materialize once again.

Last week, the debate was reintroduced by Pirate Party. Led by MP Klára Kocmanová the party said it'll take steps to combat menstrual poverty in the Czech Republic by providing free menstrual aids for everyone.

Kocmanová noted that the VAT rate of 21 percent, the so-called "tampon tax" imposed upon menstrual products in the Czech Republic is higher than diapers for which the VAT rate has been previously reduced.

Breaking down the cost of menstrual products in Czechia

Amid the current debate, Czech news server calculated the average cost a woman would pay for feminine hygiene products over 40 years of menstruation.

The results revealed that women in Czechia pay the most for pads – practically twice as much as for tampons. The cheapest option was the menstrual cup, which is also the most eco-friendly one. 

  • Maxi pads: At CZK 60 for a 10-pack of pads at 16 pads per menstrual cycle, maxi pads cost CZK 50,091 for 40 years of menstruation.
  • Tampons: At CZK 60 for a 16-box of tampons and 16 tampons used per cycle tampons cost CZK 31,300 for 40 years of menstruation.
  • Period panties: At roughly CZK 700, and four panties used per cycle period panties cost CZK 37,332 over 40 years of periods.
  • Menstrual sea sponge: At 150 to 550 CZK and lasting up to six months, sponges cost 24,000 CZK (at a price of 300 CZK) over 40 years of periods.
  • Menstrual cup: At an average price of 300 CZK with a two-year lifespan, cups cost 5,999 CZK for 40 years of menstruation (two cups per cycle raises costs to CZK 11,998).

These costs can skyrocket for families with multiple women. For instance, with the monthly costs for supplies ranging from CZK 100 to CZK 350 per person, the yearly expenses of a mother with two teenage daughters can range from CZK 3,600 to CZK 12,600.

Will Czechia eventually eradicate period poverty?

Currently, the state is distributing menstrual products to women in low-income households from its State Administration of Material Reserves through food banks. But some lawmakers say it's still not enough.

The first wave of the Pirate plan would see menstrual hygiene products available in schools, offices, and similar state institutions, where they would be provided to women in toilets free of charge – just like toilet paper, soap, or paper towels.

The party has already taken a proactive stance in addressing the issue of menstrual poverty in Prague by providing menstrual cups for single mothers and other at-risk groups. Kocmanová says that while this kind of aid reaches those most in need, as a one-off event its scope is limited.

Countries around the world taking their cues from Scotland

Based on statistics from the UK suggesting that one in ten schoolgirls prefer to stay home during their periods because they can't afford menstrual supplies, Kocmanová believes a similar situation could exist in Czechia.

“There is no reason to assume that this statistic will be significantly different here. That's why I consider it most important to have enough menstrual supplies, especially in schools. After all, menstrual supplies are also available in schools in other countries, for example in New Zealand or France,” said Kocmanová. 

​​Free menstrual products are provided by primary and secondary schools in England from January 2020. Even some schools in the U.S. make tampons and pads available to their students for free. Some European Union and South American countries have at least reduced the tax burden on sanitary products for all women.

Spain has moved even further forward in its social acceptance of menstrual discomfort: In addition to ending VAT on menstrual products, the country will also allow between three and five days of leave each month for women who have incapacitating periods. (Czech politicians remain skeptical about the introduction of paid leave for women during menstruation.)

In the Czech Republic, however, the issue continues to have rather low support and visibility among members of the government with only a handful of parties moving to introduce free menstrual supplies in offices, public institutions, and schools. Period poverty, it would seem, will continue into the foreseeable future.

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