No Tax on Sanitary Napkins, Period

Bleeding every month is neither her choice nor a luxury that she chose. And we the Indians, who boast volumes about upliftment of weaker sections of the society and women, taxed the most essential commodity used by women across the world- the sanitary napkin. When the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was introduced last year, sanitary napkins were placed under the 12% tax slab. This drew criticism from various sections of the society as the taxation on one of the most important commodities that women use didn’t adhere to the principles of a progressive tax. India is home to one of the youngest, vibrant populations in the world. With more than half of the total population falling in the range of 20-40, menstrual care and hygiene play a serious role in determining the fate of the overall well-being of the population in the country.

With the recent decision of the government to provide a 100% tax waiver to the sanitary napkins, there will be a definite shift in the well-being of the women in the country when it comes to the problems associated with menstruation. However, the tax waiver let alone will not solve the problems of average Indian women. Taxes will only ensure that the price of the sanitary napkins is being made more affordable for the women. The lack of supply of sanitary napkins, especially amongst the poorer sections as well as the lack of awareness among the women from the lower stratum of the society must be also addressed to see a real change.

What Is the Latest Decision of the GST Council?

GST Council is the apex body in the country that determines the tax slabs as well as the constituent items in each of these tax slabs. This would mean that the GST council determines the taxes on various items sold and transacted in the nation’s GDP, except alcohol and petroleum products, which are still under the purview of the tax apparatus of States. The recent rounds of the meeting of GST council were the 28th since its constitution and the council arrived at the following rates after hours of deliberations and discussions. The decision of the council was as follows:
>Exemption of stone/marble/wood idols, rakhis, sal leaves, phulbhari jhadu from taxation along with sanitary napkins.
> Reduction in the tax rates of lithium-ion batteries, vacuum cleaners, domestic electrical appliances, paints and varnishes, water coolers, articles such as scents, perfumes, cosmetics.

The most important amongst all was the removal of the sanitary napkins used by women from the purview of taxation. This would mean that there would be an immediate reduction in the prices of the sanitary napkins available in the market. In the long run, the supply of the sanitary napkins will also increase as the tax exemption would incentivise many more producers to enter the market and for the existing firms, it will encourage them to scale up their production. The economic theory of firm behaviour also suggests that the tax exemption and the resulting savings would help the firms to divert the same towards promotion and advertisements. Considering the fact that sanitary napkins form a part of the essential health care and personal hygiene goods sector, this would, in turn, create positive externalities as more women would slowly turn into the usage of sanitary napkins during the menstrual cycle.

Why More Has to Be Done:

The answer is simple; a mere tax waiver will only help boost the spread of the usage of the sanitary napkins in the short run. Maybe this would act as an incentive for those who already use sanitary napkins in the country to continue its use. However, for that larger section who still use ash or old cloth pieces may still remain untouched by this fiscal policy. The underlying problem with the limited use of sanitary napkins amongst the Indian women community is due to the fact that the sanitary napkins are not available in the rural areas and adding to this, sanitary napkins are often beyond the purchasing power of poor households.

Though a change in the taxation policies can be seen as the ‘first’ step towards encouraging a healthy menstrual cycle among women, it is not the ‘ultimate and all-in-one’ solution to bring more women into the usage of sanitary napkins. The government must take necessary steps in ensuring the availability of the napkins even in the remotest areas of the country as well as spread the message of the need of staying hygienic during the periods. At the end of the day, it is all about changing the attitudes and removing the taboos attached to the menstruation.
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