Two women took a stand against the United Kingdom’s so-called “tampon tax” in a very visual way – by “free-bleeding” in front of the Houses of Parliament in London.
Charlie Edge, a 22-year-old from Berkshire, England, and friend Ruth Howarth protested outside Parliament while wearing white pants and forgoing menstrual products while on their periods, otherwise known as “free-bleeding.” Edge told PEOPLE they protested outside for three hours.
“Today I am forgoing tampons and pads outside the houses of parliament to show how ‘luxury’ tampons really are,” Edge wrote on Facebook Friday. “We are also raising money to buy tampons for homeless shelters, women’s shelters and the refugee crisis.”
“We’re getting lots of dirty looks and someone just shouted at us to get a job,” she continued. “But everyone keeps saying ‘haha omg how quickly would we get free tampons if everyone stopped wearing them?!’ So, I’m giving it a go,” she wrote.
She added, “Taxes are necessary, I get it. So are tampons/pads.”
“They’re not luxury items, anymore than Jaffa cakes, edible cake decorations, exotic meats or any other number of things currently not taxed as luxury items.”
In another Facebook post, Edge wrote about the hate she had been receiving online after the protest.
“I think it’s important to note that this isn’t just a women’s issue – not all women have periods and not all people with periods are women,” she said. “But all the hate I’m getting is based in sexism.”
“People are so quick to tell people that the tampon tax is something we shouldn’t be upset about But then they get upset when I show them the reality of the necessity of sanitary items,” she continued.
“I can understand the hate coming from men,” Edge wrote. “I’m used to getting hate from random men on the internet. But ladies, if you’re really THAT grossed out by a small red stain on a lady’s crotch you need some quick year 7 biology pronto.”
“I get it, periods are yucky. That was the whole point of my protest.”
The UK’s tax on menstrual products has been a hot topic for decades. In 1973, the British government adopted a 17.5 percent VAT tax on sanitary products when they joined the European Union. The rate on menstrual products (which includes pads, tampons and menstrual cups) was dropped to a 5 percent reduced rate in 2001, but some people, like Edge, want menstrual products to be given a 0 percent rate as they are essential sanitary items for menstruating women.
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The 0 percent and exempt rates are meant to be for essential items like children’s clothes and food. However, according to the UK government’s website, there are other items that are given a 0 percent rate like incontinence products, magazines, newspapers, and books. Maternity pads are also charged a 5 percent reduced rate VAT tax.
The issue of the tax came up again in October when over 260,000 people signed a Change.org petition to make menstrual products exempt from the VAT tax. On Oct. 26, MPs in the UK voted against removing the “tampon tax,” 305 to 287 votes.
As for Edge’s protest, she tells PEOPLE she is still mulling over future protests now that her cause has caught international attention.
“We might do it again but I’m a bit overwhelmed by how quickly this went viral so I’m waiting to see how it pans out before we plan stage 2,” she said.
Taxes on menstrual products aren’t just limited to the UK and European Union. Sales tax varies from state-to-state in the United States, but there are many states still impose a sales tax on sanitary products, including New York, California and Wisconsin. (States like Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Minnesota do not tax sanitary products.) In May, the Canadian government approved a motion to make menstrual products exempt from taxes.
In August, Kiran Gandhi, a drummer for singer M.I.A., made headlines when she ran the London marathon while “free flowing” on her period. Gandhi told PEOPLE she decided to bleed freely in order to raise awareness about women who don’t have access to menstrual products and encourage women to not be ashamed of their periods.