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Axe the Tax: Extra Cost of Being a Woman

Please note that I have said women, in many places, for the reader’s and writer’s convenience but I do recognise and respect the fact that it is not only women who have periods and consume the other “feminine” products.

The pink tax is a phenomenon often attributed as a form of gender-based price discrimination, with the name stemming from the observation that many of the affected products are pink. It’s generally but not always a literal tax. Pink tax is subtle and not illegal, but it’s substantial. Regardless of whether tax policies of governments are involved, there is a broad tendency for products marketed specifically toward women to be more expensive than those marketed for men, despite either gender's choice to purchase either product.

A study concludes that women's products are typically more expensive than men's without a reasonable cause.“It’s crazy that half the population has to pay so much for a natural process. Imagine if there was a tax on boners. I would’ve been bankrupt by the time I was 13,” says Trevor Noah, an American satire news channel’s host.

There are many causes of this discrepancy, including the product differentiation, and the belief that women are less price elastic than men as apparently their purchases are governed by liking for a product or brand and are less likely to shift. Men, on the other hand, are assumed to be making purchases based on value. Also, it’s a marketing gimmick to repurpose a generic product for a different target audience. Women are often not aware of this price discrimination. This discrepancy applies to apparel, toys, menstrual products, healthcare products, and hair cuts, among other things.

Those who campaign against the pink tax, claim it to be so problematic because of alleged higher prices for goods and services marketed to females arising from gender alone, with no underlying economic justification such as higher costs of production in goods. For example, Pink Tax critics say women's and men's razors are essentially the same and distinguishing between them is simply a marketing strategy, and the same laxative pills were $1.49 for men and $3.69 for the same product, except for packaging.

The economic impact of the pink tax is that women have less purchasing power, especially paired with the gender-based pay gap. The wage gap already puts women at a disadvantage when it comes to purchasing power. Women currently make a statistical average 89 cents for every $1 a man earns in the United States, meaning women statistically, on average, have less income to spend on goods and services. This alone gives men more money and, ultimately, more buying power. The pink tax further contributes to the economic inequality between men and women. Paying more for goods and services marketed to women while women earn less than men means that men hold the majority of the purchasing power in the economy. Taxes on feminine hygiene products that men don't need further contributes to this discrepancy.

When GST (Goods and Services Tax) came into being in India, tax on sanitary pads was a whopping 12%. It was only withdrawn in response to multiple protests from activists across the country. Indian marketers rationalise gender price discrimination through the perceived differentiated offer and the cost of the products.

Since there have been no complaints from women so far, the trend has continued. Pink tax is subtle, not overt, unethical but not illegal, not evident, but significant. Taming it legally could be challenging but if marketers choose to do so, it could be reduced, though it cannot be removed.

The real issue here is to make women aware of the price discrimination. Only if women are aware and voice their displeasure will it force companies to rethink/redress it. With no law that prevents this pricing practice, legal intervention against it is not possible. It’s a double whammy for women, considering there’s disparity in income earned between men and women and then having to pay more for products designed for them.

Sorry to deliver the bad news ladies, but if you are aware of such things, you can avoid it. Taxes are unavoidable, but you can sometimes avoid the Pink Tax if you know how to spot it. Maybe sideline the aesthetics of the “pretty appealing packaging” and break the shackles of this pinky stereotype, and thus opt for generic versions of products wherever possible (simultaneously saving more for that extra jar of nutella!).

Written by Devanshi Pandey

Graphics by Nikita Dhamija

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