Menstruation is without a doubt a taboo topic to talk about in Pakistan. Yes, that’s right. We can not talk about menstruation openly, in 2022, when there are debates going on whether or not menstrual leaves should be made legal in workspaces. We are a country where ads for sanitary products are skipped when they appear on television because what if a male family member saw it, what if they find out that a woman ‘bleeds’! But what is our government doing about it? They continue to tax Sanitary Products by 12%.
We all know that the average tax implied on our everyday usage goods is about 17% as of the latest tax ordinance of 2021. But living in a country where the majority of people are going under the poverty line day by day due to the hike in prices in the global markets, we have also gone about debates regarding the tax on luxury goods and what should and should not be labeled as “luxury goods”. Menstrual products are still being termed luxury goods but ironically, the prices of these products are making the menstrual cycle too difficult of a luxury to afford.
Sadly, many women around the world do not have access to water for hygiene and cleaning let alone afford sanitary products for their menstrual cycles that occur each month. Pakistan is no different. In most remote areas, women are greatly immobilized and hardly have access to clean water for their personal hygiene and little to no concept of menstrual products.
But let’s talk about those who do have access to these products, is it really ideal for them to purchase these products financially? Here’s a breakdown
An average woman bleeds from the age of 12 until 51 years of her life, that is 39 years of her life going through a menstrual cycle each month. For most women, the days of menstruation are painful, followed by PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome). For some, it can be so painful that they cannot even work. It is particularly difficult for the office-going women as they cannot take leave on those days every month.
Keeping the physical and emotional toll of menstruation aside, an average woman will be spending PKR 161,460 on sanitary pads only. Think about the amount of money they can if the government would stop taxing these products or, in an ideal world, provide them for free.
What’s more, menstruating women are already at a financial disadvantage because they are influenced by the gender pay gap and earn less than males in every part of the country. There are no menstrual hygiene products that men must use because of an involuntary biological monthly occurrence, and when the closest analogous products used largely by males are not taxed, a woman’s right to be free from discrimination is infringed.
According to international human rights standards, it is illegal to charge items based solely or even mostly on the sex of the consumers. Since the VAT and tax on sanitary napkins are an issue that needs to be addressed immediately, a concerted effort and repeal campaign must be launched to provide an enabling environment for work, health, and dignity for all women.