BENGALURU: Several organisations, activists, and women’s group have criticised the government’s move to levy 12 per cent tax on sanitary pads and for listing them as a ‘luxury’ product, while condoms, bangles, incense sticks, sindoor and bindis go tax free under the new rules of the GST which came into effect at mid night on July 1.

There have also been several post and campaigns such a ‘Don’t Tax My Period’ and ‘Lahu ka Lagaan’ on social media, explaining and arguing why this tax is problematic. However, there have also been some who don’t understand what the fuss is about, among the many, the one post that hit the hardest was this posted by a man on Facebook:

“Wait, these girls who visit Starbucks, drink expensive alcohol, wear expensive branded make up, shop at expensive malls, have no political opinion on anything at all and don't know how taxes work-

And complaining about taxed Sanitary Pads? I'm sorry, that's not how it works. If you can afford all this, a 12% taxed pad isn't really taking anything away from you. Stop crying”

This post, along with 12 percent tax on sanitary pads and its listing as a luxury product is perhaps the best example of how little India knows and cares about its women citizens. Before I further elaborate on why this is problematic, I would first like to present a few facts:

  1. Menstruation is a purely biological and natural function, NOT A CHOICE.
  2. Only 12 percent of women and girls in India can afford sanitary pads.
  3. 88 percent women and girls use cow dung cakes, cloth, cotton, mud, newspaper, wood, ash, leaves and etc., since they cannot afford sanitary pads.
  4. A large number of girls drop out of school after hitting puberty, as a result of being unable to use sanitary pads and having to use cotton, wood, etc., which causes great discomfort.
  5. Anyone who’s ever had periods will never tell you it’s a fun experience, let alone that buying pads is a ‘luxury.’ (Although, with the 12 percent tax on them now, if you can afford them – that is a luxury!)
  6. A woman’s political opinion or the lack of it has no implication whatsoever on how our reproductive system works!

Several gynaecologists and doctors to have come out in support and opposed the heavy taxation on sanitary pads, pointing out that this will lead to an increase in more unhygienic and unhealthy practices, especially in rural areas.

All campaigns and pleas however, seem to fall on deaf years. The Finance Ministry has justified the move by arguing the increase in production costs and the need to protect local manufacturer. Overlooking the absolute necessity of sanitary pads for women, the finance ministry has chosen to safeguard and focus on the interest of manufacturers and producers, keeping in line with its agenda of economic development, devoid of any attempts at human development.

The process of formulating the GST rules was an all male affair, with no women included or consulted on what must be listed as essentials for women and be tax free. This not only goes on to show that women are more than often absent in decision making processes that concern them, but also raises serious questions over the government commitment towards improving the status of women and women’s health in the country.

Over the years organisations working on women’s health issues have been demanding that sanitary pads be provided at subsidies prices, in order to make them accessible to all women; but the government has done just contrary by further increasing the prices, making them even more inaccessible.

Such moves by the government go on to prove how policy changes rather than being rooted in ground realities are being arbitrarily made and most often by those who have no understanding or experience of the issue at hand.

Women’s issues in India have always been poorly understood and addressed, with ‘advice’ often coming in from unwarranted quarters and being absolutely ridiculous (like the advice to refer to the rapist as ‘brother’ in order to make him stop).

Issues concerning women’s safety have been made a mockery of in this country, by blaming rape on jeans, mobile phones, consumption of chowmien and almost always on the victim. The heavy taxation of sanitary pads is only another nail in the coffin.

What further contributes to this growing frustration and makes even the future for women in this country appear bleak is the re – assertion of patriarchal thoughts, ideas and practices; and silence of women policy makers in influential positions.

At this point, it is worth wondering, if at all women’s issues are and will be ever taken serious in this country, rather than being provided with baseless justifications or prescriptive solutions, mostly from men, who know and understand almost nothing of a women’s everyday experiences as beings and as citizens of India.