As part of my school curriculum, I did an economic analysis on the American ‘tampon taxes’ which revealed an incredibly obvious and extremely important insight, namely that taxes on menstrual hygiene products cause market failure. As pads, tampons and other such products are goods that promote hygiene, i.e merit goods, the imposition of a tax decreases the consumption of these products, which theoretically would already have a lower level of economic consumption than the optimum for society, leading to allocative inefficiency and welfare loss. Since in theory the aim of economics, and of society in general, is welfare maximisation, taxes on menstrual products theoretically have a negative impact on society. This is a fundamental economic theory that applies to all economies, including India, whose long history of social stigmas against periods being fuelled by monetary stigmas must end if our country truly wants to prosper.
But let’s leave theory aside and move into the real world. Increased consumption of menstrual hygiene products can lead to women empowerment, which is so vital to the development of any nation that it is a distinct element on the list of millennium development goals created by the UN. Greater menstrual hygiene and promotion of the awareness of menstrual problems (cramps) would lead to freedom from the fear of social discrimination and stigmatisation, thus empowering women.
But we’re all very familiar towards India’s stance on periods and the depth to which our stigma resonates (just take the fact that women even today are banned from entering temples when on their periods). To allow women empowerment to occur here we need to both abolish ‘menstrual taxes’ and unravel the web of fear, disgust and discrimination that surrounds our periods. A social ideal should be in place only as long as it adequately serves the purpose of creating value. Although it is clearly debatable whether the stigmatisation of menstruation ever really did create value, we can firmly state that in the context of the twenty-first century, and our current economic framework, it is meaningless.
So we have to work towards getting the tax abolished in any way we can so that our women can confident about their periods ( it’s sad that the idea seems so oddly alien to me, an Indian woman) and able to buy and freely use ( yes it means not hiding it under your shirt in a public place) menstrual pads, tampons and menstrual cups, and men can let them do so without embarrassment, because it’s not only a human victory but also an economic one, and since our whole world runs on money, isn’t that justification enough?