Fighting for free sanitary products in schools

After Bern's cantonal government refused to provide schools with free sanitary products, one town is going its own way.

Starting this autumn, public school restrooms in Tavannes, canton Bern, will be equipped with dispensers for free sanitary pads. As there were none on the market, the twelve metal cases will be custom made by a local company.

School social worker Roubina Kouyoumdjian managed to convince both municipal and school authorities. "When I went knocking on the door to broach the subject, I had no idea what a welcome I was going to receive," she told Swiss public television, RTS.

"There was a kind of taboo. We didn't talk about it, we had never talked about it, and suddenly it was obvious. In a few minutes it was settled and the case was approved," said Hans-Ruedi Gasser, the director of Tavannes's secondary school.

Long-lasting political reticence

The demand for free sanitary products had already come up in 2019, when a young citizen submitted the idea on the engage.ch platform, during the "Change Switzerland" campaign. Parliamentarian Samira Marti (Social Democratic Party) liked the idea and filed a motion, which the Federal Council rejected in August 2019.

A couple of months later, politicians Tamara Funiciello and Maurane Riesen made a similar request at the cantonal level. They wanted all schools in canton Bern to be equipped with free dispensers. This motion was rejected as well.

If not free then cheaper

Meanwhile, tampons and pads continue to be taxed as luxury goods in Switzerland. A 7.7% VAT is applied to these products, whereas other items such as flower arrangements, pesticides and cat litter are taxed at 2.5%.

Former parliamentarian and Social Democrat Jacques-André Maire filed a motion in December 2018 asking for sanitary products to be considered as necessities, and thus eligible for the 2.5% VAT. The House of Representatives approved his motion in March 2019; the Senate must still vote on it, but it's not on its agenda yet.

In the meantime, the Federal Council is planning to partially revise its VAT law, which could include a tax reduction on sanitary products. This would automatically approve the motion.

Bottom-up versus top-down

Tavannes is in a pioneering role, and other municipal and cantonal governments now have the chance to follow suit. Motions for free sanitary products in schools have been filed in Moutier, canton Bern, as well as in cantons Geneva and Vaud.

Scotland is the only country that requires schools to provide free sanitary products. In other countries such as Kenya, Australia, Ireland, Canada and Pakistan, these items are tax-free.

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