Features Editor Sophie Perry is pursuing a Masters in Contemporary Literature, Culture & Theory and has a special interest in Intersectional Feminism, Queer theory, gender performativity and postcolonial identities.
[Featured Image: A group of young protestors holding signs reading #EndTamponTax and other anti-tampon tax slogans.]
I began typing this interview up on March 8th, aptly enough International Women’s Day. It is apt as this day at its very core celebrates women who have pushed barriers, broken glass ceilings and brought about change. These triumphs improving the lives of women for the better and enabling women to, in the words of Captain Marvel, go higher, further and faster.
Laura Coryton is one of these women.
Laura Coryton is best known as a campaigner and feminist activist who is the founder of the Stop Taxing Periods campaign, in this she endeavoured to bring an end to Tampon Tax and make mensural products exempt from VAT. She is also the founder of a number of sister campaigns which focus on the stigmas around periods and the availability of menstrual products to girls and women. Coryton has won a number of awards for her work, including a Guardian New Radical Thinker Award and in 2016 she was featured in the BBC’s 100 Women series.
I met with Coryton on a chilly March Monday to ask her about her politics, the #EndTamponTax campaign and her new book.
First off, is there anything you want to talk about? Anything at all!
At the moment I have become really obsessed with the idea of power. So, the way in which we have been taught to see power in certain people and not others. That is maybe one reason people are so surprised when women stand up and speak up, or campaign about political things in general. I recently read Mary Beard’s book ‘Women & Power’ and its just so good! It ties in with why people should get involved with campaigning and politics, and I’m sure your students are really involved in that stuff anyway. That really made me think about campaigning in a different way
Who are your feminist and/or campaigning icons?
Oh my God, there’s so many! Simone de Beauvoir is my favorite, she is a very foundational one. There are loads of contemporary ones like Mary Beard, who I think is an amazing writer. Oh gosh there are so many! Amika George, she does a lot of stuff on period poverty. I think its good, though, to have lots of different spheres in which you look up to certain women. There are people as well like Charlie Craggs, who is really cool, and does lots of trans rights campaigning.
What do you think is the most pressing feminist issue/s of the moment?
This is going to be really, really general but I think it is the way people view women and the way people are taught to value women differently to men. That I think is the main problem because it stunts everything that we try to do, like when I speak up about tampon tax people are really shocked somehow. Obliviously trolls are a massive thing because people don’t expect women to stand up and be political. So, for example, the first time I ever wrote an article a guy commented and said ‘I wonder how many men she had to sleep with in order to secure the publication of this article’. That was so shocking because people are taught to see sex in women, not necessarily opinions, arguments and thoughts of our own.
What inspired you to create the Stop Taxing Periods Campaign?
So many things! I love female-focused campaigns and was so inspired by Caroline Criado-Perez’s banknotes campaign to keep Jane Austen on our five pound notes. Caroline’s petition made me realise how fun and powerful everyday campaigns can be. When I discovered there was a tax on period products because they’re apparently ‘luxury items’, I was gunning to sign a petition against it. But I couldn’t find any! So I decided to start my own.
Where does the government currently stand on Tampon tax, what is left to do?
Our current situation is very frustrating. We are waiting for two pieces of legislation to be implemented. The first is a tampon-tax-ending bill which will end tampon tax here in the UK. This has already approved by the Palace of Westminster. But there’s a catch. We can’t currently implement this piece of legislation because our taxation system is controlled by the EU. So this piece of legislation will basically be put into effect following Brexit. And literally nobody knows when Brexit will finally happen.
Don’t worry too much. We’ve got a plan B! The second piece of legislation that we’re waiting on is slightly more complicated (apologies!). During the EU referendum David Cameron proposed the EU should allow all member states to decrease tampon tax to their lowest national tax rate if they want to. This was accepted by the EU, with support from all member states unanimously. This had never been done before! This piece of law will come into effect in 2022. Sadly these things take a while.
Essentially, if Brexit happens tomorrow we will be able to axe tampon tax with UK-specific legislation that has already been accepted by Westminster. If Brexit lasts longer than 2022, we’ll still be able to axe tampon tax thanks to EU-specific tampon tax ending legislation that has already been accepted by the EU. Hooray!
What advice would you give to any aspiring campaigners?
Keep going! Don’t give up and always celebrate small victories along your campaigning route. Remember that a campaign’s ultimate goal isn’t always what’s important. For example, the real victory of my tampon tax campaign was that we’ve helped to challenge stigmas around periods and women’s bodies. This idea applies to all campaigns!
Tell us about your book
I’m really excited, it is coming out next week! It is basically a book for 12 to 17-year olds girls, or people in minority communities, telling them how to campaign. From the talks I gave in some schools it is obvious girls know they want to campaign but they don’t necessarily think issues like sexism are moveable concepts, or even if they think they are they don’t really know how they can change it. This basically trying to give them the tools they need to speak up online, how to use online platforms. Essentially, it’s a campaigning guide. But it also talks about speaking up on issues on an everyday basis and all the different ways people can get involved in campaigning. I also feel there is a lot of frustration is schools especially with ethnic minority women and how they feel massively invisible, not just schools but in their everyday lives. It is just really heart breaking.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
So I thinking of writing book number two, but we see how book number one goes first. That is hopefully going to be more about the internet and how to utilise the internet. I just think the online sphere is such a scary space, especially for girls in schools. But there are also all the Period Poverty campaigns going on, which is really exciting. There are so many government announcements coming out about Period Poverty now which is really good because they used not consider it an important issue at all.
Can you just explain what Period Poverty is, for our readers who may not know?
So period poverty is something that has rolled off of the back of our Homeless Periods campaign. When we realised that Tampon Tax was going to take so long to move through Parliament, we thought we would start some sister campaigns that were still about periods in general so we could still make changes in the meantime. As well, so the government still knew we were on their case! So the first sister campaign was the Homeless Periods campaign and that was trying to raise donations of period products to homeless shelters. That was the first one but we realised period poverty effects so many more people that just homeless women, who you might first think of. Lots of research has recently come out about the way period poverty effects girls in school, so almost 50% of school girls have missed school because they are embarrassed to talk about their periods – which is huge. Period Poverty is all about access to period products.
Laura Coryton’s book Speak Up! is available NOW on Amazon and all other major bookshops