Tax free hygiene

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Periods are no luxury. You can ‘opt-in’ to extravagance. You cannot choose to menstruate. Despite this, a whole heap of disadvantages have been created for those who do. Not using sanitary products can lead to health risks, jeopardise maintaining a normal, professional or personal life, and result in public ridicule. Equally, by using sanitary products, our Government capitalises on misogynist discourse and period shame that has caused us to fear our own menstrual cycles. It’s a double-edged sword that cuts women on both sides.

Tax allocations should expose the needs of society as a whole, and the needs of those who menstruate as well as those who don’t. Because we care about these people, this campaign was made in support of tax allocations representing them and reflecting something that is vital.

And how can a bodily function be taxed? Because the government doesn't consider the tampons and pads we're forced to buy every few weeks 'necessary' enough to be GST-free.

On the other hand, condoms are all tax-free because they are classed as important health goods. But isn't the reproductive health and hygiene of 49% women Indian voters important too?

Sure, the taxation on menstrual hygiene products has gone down under the GST. While the tax on sanitary pads used to be 14.5 per cent earlier, a 2.5 per cent reduction to 12 is a good thing in itself. But it does not, at all, change the fact that a decision to continue taxing menstrual hygiene products — when it could have been avoided by the finance ministry while they were working on the slab — is a sad thing.”

Moreover, to think that the 12 per cent tax on sanitary napkins is actually an improvement upon the earlier proposal to tax them at 18 per cent! This when items such as sindoor, bangles and bindis – staple purchases of most married Hindu women – have been deemed “essential” and made exempt from tax.

So an item that will help brand a Hindu woman as married and therefore accommodated within patriarchy is tax-free, but an item that will help her chart the vagaries of her reproductive cycle, and help her during all the times when she’s not a mere womb, will aid in her independence and would assist in ensuring her health and hygiene, must be taxed.

According to an AC Nielsen study, insufficient menstrual protection makes many adolescent girls miss school for five days a month, that is 50 days a year. There are comparable numbers for labouring women in rural and semi-urban areas. In addition, proper disposal of sanitary napkins is a big problem, as is dealing with menstrual pain.

But of course, women’s health, when not centred around pregnancy, is hardly a matter of concern for the government. This is the reason why the six-month maternity leave became a fortunate reality under this regime, but the single, independent woman has fallen off the radar.



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