Dear Arun Jaitley Ji, Sanitary Pads Should Be Tax-free, Period

Affordability isn’t the only issue, agreed. But it is an essential first step.

Updated
NEON
4 min read
(Photo Courtesy: Liju Joseph/<b>The Quint</b>)

After months of appealing, three lakh plus signatures on the Change.org petition, letters to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, & #LahuKaLagaan campaign on social media, where exactly do we stand on the issue of taxing women for having periods? At 12 percent.

Even 18 percent, if you use tampons of a different variety.

The Goods and Services Tax Council has decided to tax sanitary pads and tampons at 12 percent, turning a deaf ear to the collective outcry of those who wished for the Finance Minister to exempt these items. It’s roughly the same tax women had to pay before GST.

Juxtaposed against sanitary pads, items such as bindi, sindoor, bangles, and even betel leaves, have have been put in the zero tax slab.

(Photo Courtesy: Liju Joseph/<b>The Quint</b>)
(Photo Courtesy: Liju Joseph/The Quint)

Ridiculous right? Makes you wonder if the government has its priorities right. But before we start raging, let’s get the facts right.

Here’s Why Sindoor, Bindi & Bangles Are Tax Free

On first glance it may look like some of these items exempted from GST come straight out a sanskari woman’s dressing table, but hold that thought. The reason has little to do with sanskari overtones, and more to do with the nature of these manufacturing industries and their yearly turnovers.

“Those with a turnover of below Rs 20 lakh annually will be exempted from GST,” finance minister Arun Jaitley had announced last year, as reported by The Hindu.

It’s to save small scale traders and service providers from the tax burden. Makes sense, right?

So what about commodities such as condoms and salt? There are enough brands with marketing muscle power that sell these products, and yet they have been exempted from GST. Because, duh, they are essentials!

The question we really should be asking is why, like salt, emergency medicines, hearing aids, and condoms, can’t we exempt female sanitary products from taxes?

(Photo Courtesy: Liju Joseph/<b>The Quint</b>)
(Photo Courtesy: Liju Joseph/The Quint)

The answer lies in the government’s failure to treat sanitary napkins as a health issue.

Is Affordability The Only Issue?

It’s not like the government hasn’t done anything to make sanitary pads affordable in rural areas. Let’s give credit where its due, okay?

Back in 2012, the Union Health Ministry along with the Family Welfare Ministry did launch a Rs 150 crore scheme to push access and affordability of sanitary napkins among adolescent girls in rural area, as reported here by The Hindu.

(Photo Courtesy: Liju Joseph/<b>The Quint</b>)
(Photo Courtesy: Liju Joseph/The Quint)

Similar steps are being taken by the Accredited Social Heath Activists (ASHA) and the Auxiliary Nurses and Midwives (ANM) of the NRHM. While it faced access and safe disposal issues, the fact that it didn’t significantly increase usage of sanitary napkins is a matter of concern.

After such steps by the government, the situation should have been improved, but the data does not reflect the same. This means there are other factors that hinder the market development of menstrual hygiene products in India.
Excerpt from a study featured in a journal by International Science Congress Association.

If cost isn’t the only issue, what is? There are many, but the biggest evil is lack of awareness.

Forget the government, a large section of India’s women think that sanitary pads and tampons are luxury items.

Why Sanitary Pads Are a Necessity, Not Luxury

Simply because every woman needs it, period. Every woman goes through puberty, hence every woman bleeds monthly. Sanitary pads are not an ‘urban’ requirement, every woman in the country should be able to access and afford them.

The complacent mindset that rural women can do without sanitary pads must be crushed. No woman should have to ‘jugaad’ her way through periods. It’s unhealthy and dangerous. It can kill her.
(Photo Courtesy: Liju Joseph/<b>The Quint</b>)
(Photo Courtesy: Liju Joseph/The Quint)
There are enough incidents reported in the public domain that say that poor menstrual health has led to deaths among women. It is one of the leading reasons why girls, especially from rural areas, drop out of school. Sanitary napkins should have been tax-free or at least in the lowest possible tax bracket (5 percent).
MP Sushmita Dev in an exclusive interview to The Quint.

What Will It Take To Make Sanitary Pads Tax-free?

For starters, let’s not lose hope after the GST rates and keep up the good fight.

Even to bring about awareness, making sanitary pads and tampons tax-free is the first step. We can’t stop there though.

Take condoms and other contraceptives, for example. What did the family planning activists did right, that we haven’t?

Along with tax free products and putting contraceptives in the essentials category, the government also drove the message home with a massive marketing campaign. Making condoms available for free in public toilets was a great move too.

Can we do the same for female hygiene products?

Talking about the success stories from across the globe could give an impetus to the government that is eagerly looking to get positives nods from the world media.

After all, Canada, United Kingdom (effective from 2018), Ireland, and Slovakia have already signed off to abolish tampon tax, with several US states following close at heel.

If the argument against this is that these are developed countries, it should be noted that Kenya was the first to do it. Precisely because women in a developing country like Kenya, and of-course India, need it more!

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