When we included MP Mylène Freeman on our first-ever 30 Under 30 list earlier this year, we were already super-inspired by this political powerhouse. Now we have another reason to sing her praises.
At 25, the NDP MP—who was elected while still a McGill student—has been a powerful supporter of the No Tax on Tampons campaign, which earlier this month delivered more than 10,000 signatures to the House of Commons to protest the GST on feminine hygiene products (currently considered non-essential and thus not tax exempt).
Freeman talks about the power of social media and not going with the flow of discrimination.
There have been several attempts to pass a bill on making menstrual products tax exempt. Former Winnipeg NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis introduced such a bill in 2004; Ontario NDP MP Irene Mathyssen tried as well in 2011 and 2013. Why do you think it took so long for the government to finally support the tax exemption?
There was definitely a certain amount of power that came from social media and community mobilization [this time around]. People have been talking about it online with the #NoTaxOnTampons hashtag, and there were 72,000 signatures collected on an online petition, as well as 10,000 on a hard copy. It shows how much community and social media really does have an effect on what happens in Canadian politics.
You and fellow NDP MPs Niki Ashton and Irene Mathyssen were the first to support the initial petition that began in January. Why did you feel the need to back the cause? And why has your party been such a strong champion of this issue?
It’s such a logical thing to get behind. It’s an unfair tax that is a disproportional burden on menstruators. Anyone you speak to about this issue agrees that it just makes no sense not to consider feminine hygiene products essential.
Are both male and female MPs showing their support for the No Tax on Tampons movement?
The entire NDP party is in favour of taking all measures to address gender inequality in Canada. Last Thursday [when several NDPs presented formal petitions to end the tax], we had as many male MPs as female MPs standing up. It was really an amazing moment.
Now that the government is backing the movement, what’s next?
The federal government has said they would consider removing the tax [in the next budget], but frankly we have an election between now and then; there’s no reason not to get it through now. It does cost women $36 million per year, so why wait another year? The mobilization that happened on social media and in the community needs to continue in order to make sure the government follows up on its promise to remove this unfair tax. All parties and principles did support the motion. There is no reason to stall.
Finally, why on earth do you think menstrual products were considered luxury goods in the first place?
[Laughs] That’s an excellent question. What we really, really need in this country is for all of our policies, programs and budgeting to be examined through a gender lens.
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