Have you ever wondered about the amount of money you spend on period products? A menstruating person buys them a dozen times a year for about 40 years of their life. Doing simple calculus here would lead us to an exorbitant amount that is still highly unaffordable for a major part of our country’s population.
In 2017, when the GST was rolled out, a 12% luxury tax was pinned to menstrual hygiene products. Tampon tax is deemed as a discriminatory tariff which finds room in the age-old gender equality debate. This tax provoked an immediate backlash. It was referred to as ‘Lahu ka Lagaan’ in Hindi, which translates as ‘blood tax’. Only after a year of consistent lobbying by advocacy groups, campaigners and even celebrities, was the tax revoked and the products were made tax free.
Even after this move, sanitary napkins and other period products remain a privilege for many in our country. According to the newspaper ‘The Hindu’, a research conducted by UNICEF and WaterAid showed that about one-third of people in South Asia miss school due to periods, mainly due to lack of access to toilets and pads in school and inadequate education about menstruation. With shame and superstition tethered to periods in different nations, an open conversation on the subject is unworkable and about 71% of people in India are uninformed about menstruation before their first period occurs. This is known as period poverty.
The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) describes period poverty as, “the struggle many low-income women and girls face while trying to afford menstrual products. The term also refers to the increased economic vulnerability women and girls face due to the financial burden posed by menstrual supplies. These include not only sanitary napkins and tampons, but also related costs such as pain medication and underwear.”
In 2018, under a massive push for menstrual hygiene, the government introduced the oxo-biodegradable sanitary napkins which are sold from its Jan Aushadhi Kendras at just Re 1 per piece. The pads are sold in a pack of four which currently cost Rs 10. The biodegradable sanitary napkins ‘Suvidha’ will be available at the subsidised price at designated centres situated nationwide.
Period poverty is not merely an economic issue but a social and political one as well. A menstruating person has an irrevocable right to an education and a job. Therefore, making sanitation products affordable and accessible for all – is a step towards a better future for our country.
|| By Amvi Mishra ||