SANITARY NAPKINS: TAXED HEAVIER THAN YOUR FLOW By Sukanya Banerjee from Amity University
Sanitary napkins aren’t luxury, why do we have to pay taxes to buy them? While almost everyone is aware of the importance of sanitary napkins, not many people are aware that out of the 497 million women who constitute India’s population, only 12% of women use sanitary napkins. The remaining 88% of Indian women resort to unsanitary and unhealthy alternatives like: old fabric, rags, sand, ash, wood shavings, newspapers, dried leaves, hay and plastic. According to a report in The Times of India, incidents of Reproductive Tract Infection (RTI) and Cervical Cancer are 70 per cent more common among women who do not use sanitary products during menstruation.[i] [ii]
Prime Minister Narendra Modi being one of the most influential politicians of all time, swears on being a change maker, and is rightly doing so, in all domains regarding our nation. Needless to say, hygiene is a priority concern he doesn’t ever fail to ameliorate; let alone his perturb towards the education of a girl child, making him execute revolutionary schemes namely, Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao and Swachh Bharat. What he is failing to understand here is that the dire need of the current scenario demands a merger of the two; education of a girl child and hygiene, keeping female sexual health in mind. If only could the feminine hygiene products get cheaper, will it be accessible for girls living in remote areas, and also the girls from poor background. The situation demands attention because a large number of girls drop out every year only because they cannot afford basic sanitary products during ‘those days of the month’, making them rather stay at home due to hygiene issues. But ironically, the government fails them, and the government fails us, simply by not prioritizing the issue altogether.[iii]
How difficult is it to understand that menstruation is a natural and an unavoidable biological process for women. All women on an average menstruate from the age of 12-51. It is systematically discriminatory for women to be taxed for something as basic and necessary like sanitary products. Just like condoms are tax free in India, on account of its recognition as a necessity to safeguard health and life; so should sanitary napkins be exempt from tax.[iv] I mean, isn’t it downright wrong to not exempt taxes 365 days a year, for about 40 years on a sheerly uncontrollable process that women face every month?[v]
Government needs to understand that menstruation is not a choice. When people talk about Indian culture and tradition, they fail to realize the much needed gallantry that menstruation deserves. The government, however, is entitled to take all-round vigilance of women and girls, specifically their health and hygiene. What I am trying to say here, is that one cannot embrace women empowerment, and feminism in the same land where poor young menstruating girls still miss school for six days a month in remote India.
The awareness of menstrual health in India is so extraordinarily poor, that I see no urban-rural divide in this pattern. Let’s not spare even the working women in India as well, looking at the sky high rise in misconception about the same. Since it’s not mandatory in our curricula, schools upfront relinquish the concerted effort in teaching about the bodily manifestations that accompany menstruation to not only young girls, but also the young boys who would very much be a part of the system in the future. It’s only when a girl gets her first period, do they seem necessary to teach them ways to handle it, and well, unfortunately, the boys are never even a part of the whole discussion process.[vi]
After all, Canada, United Kingdom (effective from 2018), Ireland, and Slovakia have already voluntarily signed off to abolish tampon tax, with several US states following close at heel. And, before one argues that it’s only the developed countries that have taken this bold step, then allow me to effortlessly counter it by stating the fact that it was Kenya to first foray into this scheme. Needless to say, women in a developing country like Kenya, and of course India, need it more![vii]
Speaking of the current scenario in India, the events in chronological order are herein,
- October 2016 : #DontTaxMyPeriod petition
- 17th March 2017 : Representations sent to concerned government authorities to make sanitary napkins tax free
- 18th April 2017 : Viral campaign #LahuKaLagaan launched by She Says that aims to end gender based discrimination and advance women's rights in India by engaging with the youth and activating them as agents of social change to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Equality, Safety and Autonomy should be a guaranteed right and reality for women around the world. They also believe in achievement of SDG 5- Gender Equality through investment in strong partnerships and institutional building. Recognising the need for interdependency, its ethos is to build a nexus of support in domains of sanitation, education, health care, public safety and public policy.
- April 2017 : Reply from Ministry of Health and Family Welfare that they have taken cognizance of our representation and forwarded it to GST Council for perusal and consideration.
Natch, Missed Priorities? Definitely.
[iv] Global Fund Women
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