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Why Are Basic Menstrual Products Termed As ‘Luxury’ By The Govt?

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Women are being taxed 12 months a year, for about 39 years on a process they have no control over. How is that fair?” argues Congress MP Sushmita Dev in her recent petition to Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, to help revise India’s taxation policy on sanitary napkins. Initiated on Women’s Day, the petition has garnered over 190,000 signatures till date. Dev, who is from Silchar constituency, Assam, highlights a bleak statistic – of India’s 355 million women, only 12% use napkins.

What are the specific demands of the petition?

  • De-classify sanitary products from ‘’luxury’’ to ‘’essential’’ items
  • Offer 100% tax exemption for the production and distribution of environment and health-friendly pads
  • Minimal taxation on disposable sanitary napkins to dissuade its use on a large scale in order to safeguard the environment (media reports state that between 12 to 14% is expected to be applicable across states)

Women from other nations such as the USA and UK are fighting for similar exemptions on the ‘tampon tax’. Essentially the question being asked is, “Why are we being taxed to bleed?” With Dev’s petition, an important conversation has come into the political spotlight, one that several activists and organisations have been fighting for over the last several decades. However, the scope of the petition is might still be limited.

What it does not cover

One important nuance around disposable sanitary napkins is this – all disposable napkins are not bad for the environment. It is true that major players in the sanitary napkin industry such as Johnson & Johnson (Stayfree) and Procter & Gamble (Whisper), produce napkins that take up to 500 years to disintegrate, and despite there being a huge untapped potential for women of limited means, these corporations do not seem inclined to churn product lines that are basic, cheap and safe to use.

However, there are several non-multinational, smaller commercial and social enterprises producing disposable sanitary napkins made of cotton, pulp, vegetable waste, and other materials, and these are 100% biodegradable. These must also come under the ambit of those sanitary napkins that are not to be taxed, or else it is the consumer who will pay a higher price.

The second aspect is the non-inclusion or even mention of other products such as menstrual cups. While there are no concrete numbers available on the exact usage of these two products in India, the popularity of menstrual cups is definitely increasing. Shouldn’t women have the right to choose, based on their comfort levels?

Thirdly, there need to be concrete measures taken to encourage players like Muruganantham’s Jayaashree Industries, which is built around the micro-entrepreneurship concept that empowers women by involving them in the production and distribution process, as well as organisations like Eco Femme and Saathi Pads, all driving change and attempting to achieving objectives beyond profitability. A key element being incorporated in their design and production of napkins is promoting sustainability with the use of biodegradable materials. They also invest a portion of their profits towards education programmes in rural areas.

The reach of smaller players remains limited due to production, distribution and marketing constraints, and sans visibility and support from the government, getting into the mainstream supply will be a longer journey.

In a welcome move, the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation in Kerala recently tied up with a condom manufacturer, HLL Lifecare Limited, to install 60 sanitary napkin vending machines and incinerators across the city. The first 500 packets will be free and after that a charge of ten rupees for three napkins. Surely this economic and convenient solution can be replicated across the country.

The right push

Of course, Dev is pragmatic enough to admit the shortcomings of her initiatives. “I cannot petition the Finance Ministry about awareness, though. What I can do in my own constituency is raise capital funding for vending machines to be installed in schools and public toilets,” she says.

Nevertheless, if approved, Dev’s #TaxfreeWings campaign has the potential to address the wider issue of ensuring menstrual hygiene as a human right. Though we have a long way to go, with enough noise from leaders like Dev and community members like ourselves, there’s no stopping the strides Indian women can make across all echelon.

To join the fight against the taxation of sanitary products, sign this petition


Sangeetha Bhaskaran is an intern with Youth Ki Awaaz for the batch of February-March 2017.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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