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How exactly is a tax system going to affect our monthly periods? Well, the GST marks pads and tampons as a ‘luxury’ item, and condoms, bangles and bindis as necessities. This means we will end up paying taxes for dealing with an involuntary biological function, i.e. periods, while the ‘choice’ of using condoms, bangles and bindis is not taxed! How strange is that?
What is GST?
Simply put, GST is a ‘one nation, one tax’ system. The GST is imposed at varying tax rates of 0, 5, 12, 18 & 28 (in percentage) on different categories that are calculated on the basis of varying factors. Under this classification, industries which have an annual profit under Rs. 20 lakh are exempted from tax. This includes sindoor, bindis and even betel leaves – this group is ‘tax-free’ as it promotes small-scale industries.
With the large number of indirect and direct taxes levied in India – a system that makes it really complicated for all of us – this comes as a relief. With such a transparent and structured system, GST puts India at par with foreign nations and is sure to benefit the Indian economy in the long run.
However, there is one category that is a cause of dissent among the public – especially women – the Personal Hygiene industry! There have been some major changes in the way sanitary napkins are priced, and it’s going to end up affecting all of us.
Change in Taxation on Sanitary Napkins & Comparison to Tax Free Items
Sanitary napkins, and the personal hygiene industry overall, have an annual turnover above Rs. 20 lakh. This makes it a taxable industry. As per the government, keeping in mind the GST on the raw materials that go into making sanitary napkins and tampons (taxed at 5%, 12% or 18%), these products are now going to be taxed. They are going to be taxed at 12%.
As per a press release by the finance ministry, an “excise duty of 6% and 5% VAT” was charged for sanitary napkins earlier and GST brings it down to 12% – effectively making it cheaper. However, The press release missed mentioning the fact that VAT was applicable only in a handful of states, so the taxes have basically gone up from 6% to 12%.
Saroj, a mother of 3 daughters in their pre-teen and teen years, from New Delhi shares that her monthly budget to spend on pads is Rs. 300 for all 4 of the menstruating members of the family. Her Husband has a monthly salary of Rs. 15000 and in the pre-GST era, Saroj states that the pads would become “unaffordable every few months”.
She says, “The months I cannot afford the right number of packets of sanitary napkins, I end up using cloth. I can’t let my daughters use it, so I compromise.”
Now, with the 12% tax slab applicable on sanitary napkins, she’s nervous.
“This is not a luxury item. We are women, we go through this every month, and not out of choice. Sanitary napkins should cost very little; it should be tax-free,” says Saroj.
While there currently is no clarity on the price of pads post-GST, there is sure to be an increase by 6% in quite a few states.
When considering the economic factors of cost of production, it seems sensible to tax sanitary napkins and tampons. However, the fact that these products are a necessity, and consequently the reason behind a high turnover, has not been taken into consideration. Periods aren’t optional – they are an involuntary biological function that women from every socio-economic setting go through for an average of 40 years of their lives. Sanitary napkins and tampons are the most basic personal hygiene products available for women.
So, doesn’t the government perceive this need of women? No, we don’t believe the government has deliberately made this oversight. Who better than the leaders of this country to understand the plight of 48% of India’s population? Let’s give credit where it’s due! For example, in 2012, the Union Health Ministry along with the Family Welfare Ministry launched a Rs. 150 crore scheme to push access and affordability of sanitary napkins. Even organisations like Accredited Social Heath Activists (ASHA) and the Auxiliary Nurses and Midwives (ANM) of the NRHM have undertaken similar initiatives.
However, the results have not been very motivating. Sanitary napkins have always been expensive, and even with these schemes, only about 12% of India’s population are able to access or afford them. What’s even more alarming is, a major reason for this lack of use of a basic hygiene product is the pricing of sanitary napkins! Many women themselves think pads and tampons are a luxury item! This leaves a majority of woman with a lack of basic hygiene products for something they have no control over.
When compared to the ‘tax-free’ status of products like bindis, bangles and betel leaves, one is left wondering if the Indian government needs to take another look at priorities with regard to the logic behind formulating taxes!
Social Impact of GST on Sanitary Products
Many of us do realize that sanitary napkins are a necessity. But like we just saw, there are also many of us who don’t! And with access to these products made more expensive, it can have far reaching effects for the Indian society. You’d be surprised at the impact a simple necessity can have on a nation!
Increase in Infections and Complications
Lack of menstrual hygiene can lead to severe infections and complications in most women. In India, due to the lack of access/affordability of sanitary napkins, many women tend to use cotton, cloth, and sometimes, rags. They use these alternatives time and again which leads to major reproductive and urinary tract infections (UTI) along with painful skin irritaions like rashes. Imagine using a rag, washing it and using it the next day as well without realising the presence of an insect there!
In India, many adolescent girls face major difficulty when it comes to maintaining menstrual hygiene. First of all, during this time, girls have to deal with menstrual cramps. There is often a lack of availability of sanitary napkins in the school premises or nearby areas. This leads to their absence in schools and colleges. They have to sit at home owing to relative comfort in the privacy of home – in many cases, this leads to subsequent dropouts. According to a report by The Citizen Bureau, there is about 20% dropout rateof girls who reach puberty. It not only affects their academic life but troubles them psychologically too.
Contradictory to ‘Swach Bharat Abhiyan’
The Swach Bharat Abhiyan aims at building proper sanitation facilities across the country. Women menstrual hygiene too is a major part of this ideology, and not providing for this is equivalent to diluting the Swach Bharat ideology. As per the 2011 census, only 25.4% households in rural India have bathrooms. 76% of women residing in rural areas have to walk more than half a kilometer to fetch water from ponds and rivers. However, this figure has significantly improved over the last few years and imposing GST now will perhaps undo these improvements.
What Can You Do to Combat the GST on Sanitary Napkins?
After the announcement of the GST changes, there has been a widespread public outcry and criticism regarding taxation of sanitary napkins. #LahuKaLagaan, a social campaign (by an NGO called ‘She Says’), is urging the finance Minister Arun Jaitley to abolish tax on women’s sanitary products.
The campaign was a start to fight the taxes on women’s sanitary products and gathered a lot of attention on social media.
Similarly, some petitions too have been created for the cause. These petitions urge the government to revise the GST on sanitary napkins and the more people are a part of this, the more likely that the government will work to reform the taxes. You can sign one here to express your support
4 Tricks to Save Money While Shopping for Sanitary Hygiene Products
Since sanitary hygiene isn’t an option for women to consider but an absolute necessity, it definitely does become quite difficult to keep up with economic viability and sanitary needs. Although the GST is now in order, one can’t possibly expect menstruation to take a backseat! So, being Indian women always on the hunt to find the most economical way of doing things, here’s how we can combat this situation.
Switch to Menstrual Cups
It is estimated that a woman should ideally change a sanitary napkins about 3 times a day during their period to avoid the risk of any infections. On the other hand, one menstrual cup can actually be reused for one entire menstrual cycle! You can simply insert one and let it work for up to 12 hours, thereafter wash it and reuse it. It’s that simple!
Menstrual cups are a fairly new concept in India; however, their economic viability is quite impressive. Made of rubber or silicon, these cups are worn inside the vagina to catch and collect menstrual blood. Apart from being economical, these cups are hygienic too.
Try Period Panties Instead
Period panties are another alternate sanitary product that are catching the fancy of many women across the globe. The panties are washable and hence reusable, therefore, quite economically sustainable too. These are super comfortable and do not require you to place any pads or tampons while using them. These panties come with the ability to absord or wick away blood. This will help deal with leakage and light blood flow days. You just to wear them on and they do their thing. In fact some really quirky ones look extremely trendy too!
Opt for Bulk Purchase/ Wholesale Markets
When in doubt, buy in bulk. You can buy any of these products or even your regular sanitary napkins in bulk and store them for future use. In fact, it is a more convenient option to buy from wholesale stores and retail stores that always offer discount on products.
Go for Not-So-Popular Brands Too
Yes, popular brands always get the first preference, however, several indigenous brands are surfacing these days that provide at-par quality and are less expensive too. You can opt for these brands the next time you purchase sanitary napkins. You will not be disappointed and wallet won’t take a hit either! While purchasing sanitary napkins ensure you check the ingredients of the pads, how skin friendly they are and how well do they fit/absorb. Irrespective of the brand, make sure you follow certain guidelines before purchasing one. You can even opt for cloth menstrual pads to keep those costs low!
We are privileged to afford sanitary pads today, but the fact that they aren’t available to a majority of the female population requires some action on our behalf. We have a duty to use the power of this privilege to better the hygiene conditions of our fellow women as now, more than ever, its important to move towards a healthier and more hygienic India.