The Campus Witches in Turkey: “Menstrual Products Are Essential”

Turkish women protesting in pink witch hats with symbolic blood-stained cloth

Laurie and Debbie say:

Elmas Topcii, writing at DW, a German news site, brings us the story of the Campus Witches, a group of extremely brave women in Izmir, Turkey, who are focusing on a particular effect of the country’s extreme inflation: tampons and sanitary pads.

The Witches, who wear bright pink witch hats, have been demonstrating around issues that affect girls and women, primarily in university and college settings.

In recent months, they have particularly campaigned against the drastic rise of the cost of sanitary products and called for the 18% tax on such items to be abolished. They say that since menstruation is natural, sanitary products are not a luxury but essential.

Therefore, they think they should be provided for free by the state. In the meantime, they have stepped up initiatives such as solidarity boxes in women’s toilets and other public spaces where people can donate tampons and pads for those who cannot afford them.

To put this in context, sanitary products are subject to sales tax in vast swaths of the world. Leah Rodriguez wrote about this for Global Citizen last June. Her article is rich with horrifying statistics:

Period products are subject to a state sales tax in 30 of the 50 US states despite efforts to ban the tax country-wide.  

Across the European Union, most countries are not allowed to create zero-rated value-added taxes on period products and have a 5% minimum tampon tax. The tampon tax is as high as 20% in 10 member countries but it will be eliminated across the member states in 2022. However, some countries in the EU have managed to reduce or eliminate the tampon tax sooner.

According to Rodriguez, this is an international cause, and her article demonstrates that it is needed in much of the world. Nonetheless, demonstrating about the cost of menstruation in Turkey is different from doing the same thing in Germany or many parts of the United States. Tolcii’s article about the Turkish protestors says “For many of their compatriots, the subject of menstruation remains taboo.” Making taboo subjects public is risky, and takes substantial courage. Reclaiming the history of witches, who were persecuted in Europe, often for supporting women’s health and women’s needs, may well be one source of the bravery the Campus Witches show whenever they bring menstruation into the public eye.

Irmak Sarac, a gynecologist and honorary member of the Turkish Medical Association, told ANKA that conditions for female seasonal agricultural laborers was untenable. “We are hearing that women are taking leaves and putting clean earth on them to absorb their menstrual blood,” she said. She too was of the opinion that the state should provide sanitary products for free.

Rodriguez opens her article with this flat statement:

We cannot end extreme poverty if people who menstruate around the world, from Ethiopia to the United States, continue to lack access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, handwashing facilities, and/or, waste management.

The Campus Witches are part of a worldwide movement; their victory (if it happens) will have significant consequences both for individual Turkish people who menstruate and for the greater issue.

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