In a boon for India’s women and girls, the Centre has made feminine hygiene products tax-free.
The decision was announced more than a year after the Goods and Services Tax (GST) imposed a twelve percent duty on menstrual pads. The levy sparked controversy, as items such as bindi, bangles and sindoor were classed as “essential” and therefore tax-free.
“I am sure that all sisters and mothers will be happy to hear that sanitary pads have been given a 100% exemption and brought down to a tax rate of zero,” said Acting Finance Minister Piyush Goyal.
Campaigners celebrated the news. Menstrual health charity Sachhi Saheli called the decision to scrap the tax “a step towards women health and empowerment.” Similarly, the Niine Movement said it was “a step towards breaking the taboo on menstruation.” It said the “next step” is to “talk about periods openly.”
Good menstrual health is essential for ensuring the health and empowerment of women and girls. However, there is a great deal of stigma attached to the topic in India. As a result, many women and girls are ostracised and shamed during their periods. They are frequently disallowed from entering kitchens, places of worship and even their own homes during their menstrual cycle.
“The decision to scrap the tax [is] a step towards women health and empowerment…The next step…is to talk about periods openly”
The stigma attached to menstruation in India is a driving factor behind the inaccessibility of feminine hygiene products. Just twelve percent of Indian women and girls use sanitary pads according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). This is a situation exacerbated by limited awareness of what menstruation is and how to care of one’s hygiene during their cycle. Of the 355 million menstruating women in India, 200 million lack this vital knowledge. One survey of Indian girls found seventy percent of respondents felt unprepared for their first period.
Affordability is another challenge. Seventy percent of Indian women have said their families cannot afford menstrual pads. This financial obstacle is one that repealing the twelve percent tax on menstrual pads could help to overcome. However it is worth noting that, even if menstrual pads become more affordable, the stigma surrounding menstruation is likely to remain. As such, many women and girls will continue to experience their periods alone and in silence.
Lifting the twelve percent tax is a welcome step towards increasing the availability of good menstrual care to India’s women. However, it ought to be the first step towards lifting the stigma surrounding menstruation – in the process making India a happier, safer country for its women and girls.