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‘Pink tax’: Calls grow to scrap ‘unfair’ prices on women’s products

RELATED: $15 box of tampons raises questions on gender bias in pricing – Dec 5, 2017

Some Canadian high school girls want to take their “pink tax” fight to the House of Commons, calling on the federal government to scrap an “unfair pricing practice” that research suggests discriminates against women.

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A recent petition started by Sofia Ambroziak, a Grade 11 student in Ottawa, and two other schoolmates, is urging officials to take action so that women in Canada don’t have to pay more than men for daily essentials, like toiletries and clothing.

The petition, which has received nearly 11,000 signatures as of Thursday, was launched in February as part of an annual school competition organized by Voices of Olympia Canada.

Ambroziak, 16, told Global News the girls have already sent letters to different MPs about their campaign and hope to have the petition tabled in the House of Commons. She said she wants to see legislative action on the “pink tax” in the upcoming federal budget.

“We really want to push for the government to approve legislation or a law that will prohibit this discriminatory tax,” said Kaarhunyaa Sivapalan, who is one of the participants.

Growing up with three brothers, Nagwa Abdelaziz, 17, said she has seen the “pink tax” her entire life with differences in everyday purchases.

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“It’s actually gotten to the point where my mom started to buy me men’s razors just because they’re cheaper and they even work better, which is just disappointing to see that such a simple thing could be used against women just to make a profit,” Abdelaziz told Global News in an interview.

What is the ‘pink tax’?

The term “pink tax” was coined in the 1990s to describe difference in pricing between gendered products, with women’s items costing more than the men’s, said Janine Rogan, a chartered professional accountant in Calgary and author of book The Pink Tax.

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“If you look at two products, typically what you’ll find is the men’s item is priced less than the women’s item, so think deodorant, razors, shampoo, or if they’re priced the same, oftentimes the volume will be less for the women’s product,” she said in an interview with Global News.

Rogan said this gender-based price discrepancy continues to exist because often corporations “can get away it” by marketing the products as being different and therefore priced higher even though they are almost identical.

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A price difference of a few cents or a couple of dollars might go unnoticed while shopping, but it all adds up over the course of a woman’s lifetime, she said.

A 2021 analysis by ParseHub, a Canadian web scraping company, found that overall, women in Canada pay upwards of 50 per cent more on average than men for nearly identical personal care products, like body wash, deodorants and razors.

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It’s a similar story across the border in the United States.

For instance, in the state of California, it is estimated that the average woman pays about US$2,381 more for the same goods and services than her male counterpart per year, translating to approximately US$188,000 in “pink tax” over the course of her entire lifetime.

A New York City government study from 2015 analyzed the prices of nearly 800 individual items and found that on average, women’s products cost seven per cent more than similar products for men. The price discrepancy for personal care products was the widest at 13 per cent.

Rogan said on top of the higher price for women’s products, the government tariffs on imports of such items are usually more expensive, which further adds to the costs, she said.

All of that takes a big financial toll on women who are also, on average, paid less in wages than men, Rogan said.

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“We have less money to begin with and then we’re being hit with the pink tax, so we’re having to pay more for just items in our day-to-day life and that ultimately means we have less money to save and less money to invest, compared to our male counterparts.”

What is Canada doing about the ‘pink tax’?

Global News reached out to the office of Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth, about the “pink tax” petition, but did not get a response by the time of publication.

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In 2015, the Liberal federal government eliminated the Goods and Services Tax, or GST, on menstrual products, which Rogan said is “a step in the right direction.”

More recently, since December 2023, Ottawa requires free menstrual products to be available at federally regulated workplaces across Canada.

In a response to questions from Global News about the “pink tax,” Katherine Cuplinskas, press secretary for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, said: “Through free contraceptives, $10-a-day early learning and childcare, and much more, we are helping younger women get ahead and choose the future they want for themselves.”

“We look forward to unveiling the next steps of our plan in Budget 2024,” Cuplinskas added.

The federal government will table its 2024 budget on April 16.

A national pharmacare bill, introduced in Parliament in February, includes coverage for contraception, among other things. Covering contraceptives is a way to eliminate gender-based price discrimination in Canada, Cuplinskas said.

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Rogan said legislation is a great place to start, with potential fines for organizations.

“I would say in addition to policy, there has to be a mechanism for reporting, when there is a discrepancy in price,” she said.

In the United States, at least two states have enforced legislation to ban the so-called “pink tax.”

Since January 2023, a California law has prohibited “charging a different price for any two goods that are substantially similar, as defined, if those goods are priced differently based on the gender of the individuals for whom the goods are marketed and intended.”

This came after New York made it illegal in September 2020 for businesses to charge different prices for “substantially similar” consumer goods or services based on gender, unless there is a gender-neutral reason.

How to avoid the ‘pink tax’

When you do come across any gender-based price discrepancy, Rogan urged Canadians to call out companies on social media, to raise awareness and put pressure on them.

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“I would say to especially young people to continue doing that, because if they’re not … put on trial, for lack of a better word, then they aren’t going to stop doing this,” she said.

The Grade 11 students at St. Francis Xavier High School in Ottawa are trying to do just that with their petition.

In the absence of any legislation, Rogan said there are steps women can take to avoid paying the “pink tax,” such as choosing products marketed for men.

“I would say just be really mindful of what you’re purchasing,” she said.

“So, if you can see that a men’s razor, the blue razor, is $4 cheaper and it’s the exact same razor, then maybe you go ahead and purchase that one.”

“Getting smart about those types of things, and being aware can absolutely make a difference.”

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