Menstrual pads continue to be taxed while products such as sindoor, bindi and bangles have been considered essential, rendering them tax free. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) has come under fire from the media — and in particular feminist writers and groups — for continuing the policy.
Various social media platforms have been in an uproar over the matter, the DailyO, an opinion blog based in India has compiled tweets. Issues amongst Indian women such as the prioritisation by the government of materials related to marriage over items that relate to women’s health are the focus of social media criticism.
The taxation rate on sanitary pads has however been reduced in recent years, as the Daily O acknowledges, from up to 14.5 percent in some states. The small reduction of 2.5 percent, while a slight improvement, has not been received well.
Twelve percent of the estimated 355 million Indian women of childbearing age use sanitary pads, with the number of pads used over a lifetime ranging from 11,000 to 17,000. It is thought that the majority of Indian women do not use sanitary pads due to financial constraints.
Due to the poverty that many women in India face, stories are abundant of the use of makeshift sanitary pads that have caused extreme health problems – in some cases even fatalities. The Huffington Post India reports that a woman in a village in Firozabad repurposed a synthetic blouse into a pad, only to find a loose metal hook from the blouse had become lodged in her vaginal tract. This caused a severe infection that took her life before doctors could intervene.
The issue has made an impression at a government level. A petition on Change.org, started by Congress MP Sushmita Dev, has raised the problem and suggested sanitary pads be made completely tax exempt. The petition is addressed directly to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and puts forward the argument that it is unfair to tax a natural process women have no control over.
An alternate, and more environmentally friendly approach, has been put forward by the Hindustan Times. The suggestion is that by switching to reusable sanitary pads, not only can the cost of the pads be curbed significantly, but the environmental impact of disposing of the pads — most of which are not biodegradable — can be reduced.
Approaches such as this may provide an alternative means for women to provide for their sanitary needs without incurring a huge cost. In addition, it would prevent the accumulation of waste products that would inevitably occur if disposable sanitary pads became tax free.