End VAT on menstrual products in SA

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For submission to the Independent Panel of Experts appointed by National Treasury to review the current list of VAT zero-rated items:

Add feminine hygiene products such as tampons, sanitary napkins and menstruation cups to the list of VAT zero-rated items.

Menstruation is a biological inevitability for nearly all women. The average woman is estimated to have roughly 450 periods in her lifetime, and according to the British Journal for Medicine and Medical Research, will use up to 17 000 pads or tampons in her lifetime. The additional cost of tax on feminine sanitary items therefore places women at a distinct financial disadvantage in comparison to men.

The effect of the tax on these items for women from low-income households is particularly profound given that should they be unable to afford the additional expense of sanitary items, these women are then forced to resort to using rags, cloths or even newspaper instead, or to stay at home rather than attending work or school.

Not only is this an affront to their basic human rights and dignity, but also places women's health at risk where rags, cloths and newspaper is not properly cleaned or sanitized, and raises public health concerns given the higher potential for bodily fluids to still escape.

Frequent absenteeism also places women at a marked disadvantage to male peers in terms of educational outcomes as well as long-term employment prospects. In 2014, it was estimated that as many as 3.7 million girls in South Africa could be missing school because of their periods, with far-reaching consequences for their futures.

Beyond impacting women's education, the expense of sanitary items further obstructs women's ability to build wealth and save. According to the World Economic Forum's 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, South Africa was ranked at just 114 out of 144 countries in terms of wage equality, meaning that South African women already earn less than men for the same work performed. Being unable to access or having to pay additional tax on what is essentially a medical necessity not only has the potential to impact women's work performance, but entrenches the poverty trap that many women from low-income households find themselves in.

Finally, taxing feminine hygiene products essentially means that the government draws additional revenue specifically from women in a form of institutionalized gender discrimination, profiting unequally from women and their bodies. At it's most basic, VAT on feminine hygiene products thus flies in the face of the right to gender equality enshrined by the South African Constitution.