The 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes was calling it as he saw it when he described the life of man, in the state of nature, as being solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. Undoubtedly, life was even more brutish for the vast majority of women in the 1600s.

There are many reasons why I feel very grateful indeed to have been born a woman in New Zealand in the 20th century. In fact, a recent study cited the opportunities for women as one of the reasons migrants choose New Zealand as their new home.

They want their daughters to have the sort of future they could only dream of in their own countries and we as a nation quite rightly trumpet our successes when it comes to the advancement of women.

We have another opportunity to steal a march on the world if we choose - and that is to remove the GST from feminine hygiene products. Hell, why not go one further and make them free to all women through the health budget?


Tampons and pads can hardly be considered a luxury. Oh, there are those of the old school who believe that if families can't afford the cost of feminine hygiene products (or fhps for brevity) then they should do what the women of yesteryear did and tear up old cloths, pin it to your knickers and get on with it.

But I'm sure all the shame and horror surrounding menstruation is due in part to the archaic methods women had to use to deal with their monthly cycle. I've heard dreadful stories from older women friends about using rags as pads.

The boiling of the rags, drying them surreptitiously so nobody could see them - you cannot tell me women should be expected to go back to the bad old days when infinitely superior options exist.

Labour MP Louisa Wall launched a campaign this week, supported by Countdown and the Salvation Army, to provide feminine hygiene packs to young women who can't afford them.

According to Wall, some students are skipping classes during their periods because they can't afford to protect themselves. Others are resorting to homemade options that are at best unhygienic and at worst unsafe.

Last year, the youth wing of the Labour Party campaigned to have GST removed from fhps, but their calls fell on deaf ears.

Tax experts, overwhelmingly men in grey suits, argued removing GST on tampons would be the thin end of the wedge and other lobby groups could make the claim GST should be abolished on other items deemed essential.

Certainly, there is resistance around the world in making fhps cheaper and more accessible for women.

In November last year, the British Parliament proposed removing VAT from pads and tampons but the bill was voted down 305 to 287.

However, other countries and state governments around the Western world are taking up the cause. Just last month, New York State voted to provide them free of charge in public schools, prisons and homeless shelters because, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, tampons and pads aren't luxuries, they're necessities.

Sales tax will also be removed from fhps in New York from the next sales quarter, a move considered a win for equality given sales tax is exempt from other personal and medical products, including foot powders and Rogaine, a hair treatment used by balding men.

Periods are a fact of life for most women for a good part of their lives.

They can be welcome or unwelcome, depending on whether you want children. They can be painful, annoying and embarrassing. What they shouldn't be is prohibitively expensive.

And in this day and age, no young woman should be missing out on educational opportunities because they can't afford to protect themselves.

Kerre McIvor is on NewstalkZB, weekdays, noon-4pm