2018 Jul 31
A few days ago, India introduced a new world for the bleeding woman, a world of tax free sanitary pads. The motive of this movement was to improve future prospects of young girls who were often constricted to their homes during their time of the month due to their inability to afford such necessities. Diminishing the tax was said to conquer one of the biggest obstacles in the provision of education for young girls-the lack of hygienic toilets in schools along with the humiliation their ignorant societies impose on a young adult. Ironically, condoms were tax free before the tax on sanitary pads in India was lifted. Are women simply being taxed for being women?
Under India’s goods and services tax (GST), sanitary pads were taxed at 12% which was first introduced back in July 2017. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka imposes a tax of 15% on top of NBT and the Port Levy on sanitary napkins. Mohan Bharara, Minister of Women and Child Affairs, Group Director /CEO- Capital Maharajah Organization stated back in 2017 that sanitary pads are treated just like any other product, “despite their unique biological use.” But when asked whether a slash in taxes could have any impact, he stated that the obvious effect would be that more women, mostly from rural areas will find it more affordable.
Despite this true statement, Sri Lanka is far from eliminating the tax on its own sanitary products. Menstruation related concerns are relevant to more than 4.2 million women in Sri Lanka. Studies indicate that only around 30% of them use sanitary pads to manage their monthly cycle. If the tax is reduced, underprivileged women will be benefited. Better access would lead to better hygiene, resulting in fewer diseases, and both longer and healthier lives. The added benefit could be an increase in productivity as women from disadvantageous communities who are often confined to the walls of their houses during this agonizing time, would be able to feel more secure with access to effective feminine hygiene products. This series of events may lead to stronger, confident and more independent women, aiding the future generations of Lankan women.
The tax, however, may be benefiting domestic corporate greed. Local businesses who are unable to survive with increasing imports of foreign products may be surviving to this day on acts of protectionism imposed by the government. However, local products are taxed as well. The standard rate of Value Added Tax (VAT) is 15% whereas the NBT equates to 2%. This is a whopping 17% on domestically produced goods! With the image of protecting domestic firms, it seems as though the government is feeding off of their home-grown inhabitants.
Many argue over whether or not the removal of tax will actually lead to a fall in price of sanitary products, due to the concept of input tax credit- the manufacturer too purchases raw materials from a buyer who sells them at a cost including tax. Once the manufacturer converts the raw materials into a final product and sells them at a price including VAT, they have the opportunity to claim a refund for the tax paid on inputs. As the GST (Goods and Services Tax) has been scraped off, manufacturers cannot redeem their input tax credit. Thus, sanitary napkin manufacturers may resort to raising prices to cover their raw material cost-leading to an ultimately insignificant reduction.
In countries such as India and Sri Lanka, speaking about a woman’s period is still rather taboo. Although times have changed, most girls are taught from a very young age to hide their pads in secretive locations, as it would be “embarrassing” if someone were to see it. Menstrual health and speaking publicly on the topic of menstruation is one of the reasons why many women suffer from infections and other related diseases. Some communities are absolutely oblivious on the topic, with their sanitation products going no further than the simple use of a piece of cloth. In India, some even use sand and leaves.
The right to sanitation and hygiene is something every individual deserves-regardless of race, social hierarchy, and how society labels the normal bodily function of a woman. Reliable access to sanitary products should be provided free of charge to all women equally. It is neither a luxury nor a choice to bleed.