India has joined Canada, Ireland and Kenya as some of the few countries that have zero tax on menstrual hygiene products.
A 12% tax on sanitary pads was first introduced in July 2017 under India’s Goods and Services Tax (GST). This sparked immediate outrage among activists who campaigned over a year against the tax. A viral campaign started by an organization called SheSays dubbed the tax as Lahu Ka Lagaan, “blood tax” or “tax on blood.” Indian lawmaker and activist Sushmita Dev created a petition that collected over 400,000 signatures in opposition of the new tax.
The removal of the tax was in part due to India’s plans to bring all of the states in the country under one unified tax system for the first time ever. Previously, items had been taxed at different rates in different states leading to delays and complications.
India’s acting Finance Minister, Piyush Goyal, said “I am sure all mothers and sisters will be very happy to hear that sanitary pads are now 100% exempt from tax and brought down to a tax rate of zero.” In response to the removal of the sanitary tax, Dev thanked her supporters while criticizing the government for taking so long to take action, “clearly the government had put forth frivolous arguments for one year and delayed it,” she said in a tweet.
Prior to this, sanitary pads were considered luxury items and cost between USD 0.08 and USD 0.20 each with a 12% tax rate while contraceptives such as condoms were exempt from any tax as they are considered essential items.
A staggering 40% of women between the ages of 15 and 24 do not have access to sanitary products during their menstrual cycle, according to India’s National Family Health Survey.
Women in rural areas living in poverty often have to resort to rags, ashes, sawdust or leaves as alternatives to sanitary pads which increases the risk of infections and disease. Another report estimated that four out of five women have zero access to menstrual hygiene products, a main reason why girls drop out of school. Lower productivity in the workplace has also been linked to lack of access to proper sanitation. Hopefully, the elimination of the tax will allow more girls to attend school consistently. Surbhi Singh, the Founder of a charity that focuses on raising awareness about menstrual health, said “this was a most-awaited and necessary step to help girls and women to stay in school, their jobs, to practice proper menstrual hygiene.”
Other countries are still fighting for similar tax-free laws on sanitary products, such as the U.S., Australia and the U.K.