Recently, I got a pack of sanitary pads for GH₵20 from a convenience shop. The shock of a fruit seller beside the shop at the mention of the price was equal to mine.
In a rant about price hikes, she disclosed she opted for paper towels and clean rags when the prices of pads started rising. “Toilet roll does not cost much, so at least I am able to use the money I would have used for the pad on other things,” she reasoned.
I was shocked by her bluntness largely because of the fact that a basic human need has become a luxury for her. The 20-year-old fruit seller’s story mirrors 95 per cent of girls who are disadvantaged. Within a short period, the price of a pack of sanitary pads has doubled.
Menstrual health is a fundamental human right, given that menstruation is a necessary part of human existence. UNICEF estimates that 1.8 billion women menstruate worldwide. Yet, for some 500 million women and girls, the biological phenomenon becomes a cause for worry every month. With the price of sanitary products ever-increasing, many are denied a dignified and healthy menstrual process.
This is period poverty, the lack of access to basic sanitary products and facilities.
In lieu of sanitary pads, rags and paper towels have become the alternative for women who are unable to afford. The use of these items has been linked to physical health and reproductive health risks such as bacterial vaginosis and urinary tract infection. That is why the so-called luxury tax, one of the challenges that make it impossible for one to have access to sanitary products, is worth mentioning.
The Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) slapped a 20% import tax levy and 12.5% value-added tax on all imported sanitary products under the 2012 Harmonized System (HS) and customs tariff schedules. The tax has been termed a luxury tax. The Cambridge University Press defines a luxury tax as an excise tax that is levied on luxury goods. Luxury goods as described by Investopedia are items that are not considered essential to everyday life but are deemed highly desirable within a culture or society. What then informed the need to levy a basic need as a luxurious item? The crux of the high cost of pads is the resultant effect of these taxes coupled with the hyperinflation that the country is facing.
How the Luxury Tax is taking Ghana down on the SDG Hill
Not only do taxes on sanitary products reinforce discrimination against girls and women; they also intrinsically bedevil Ghana’s attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 1 (no poverty), SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 4 (quality education) and SDG 5 (gender equality) in various ways. Last year, Ghana was ranked 110th out of 163 countries that are capable of achieving all 17 SDGs. Taxation on sanitary pads translates to a high cost of pads which means most Ghanaians cannot afford them. Their health and well-being are therefore at the mercy of the unsafe options they are forced to explore. And so, we find too many girls of school-going age missing school out of the discomfort or fear of soiling themselves.
This year’s menstrual Hygiene Day is on the theme, “Making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030”. This is to ensure that no one is held back due to menstruation. But it is obvious from the steps being taken so far that there is more that needs to be done, starting with scrapping all taxes on sanitary products.
All talk, no action
#donttaxmyperiod, #stopperiod tax and #menstruationmatters are hashtags that have led the charge by civil society organisations, non-governmental organisation and other advocacy groups to get the government to scrap the taxes on sanitary products. On World Menstrual Day every year, period taxes become topical; petitions are signed. The results, however, are synonymous to fetching water with a basket.
In the run-up to the 2020 elections, Vice President Mahamadu Bawumia promised that the NPP Government would scrap the tax on imported sanitary pads. But as the elders say, talk is cheap.
The former Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Sarah Adwoa Sarfo, and Member of Parliament for Kpando, Della Sowah, added their voices to the call for the removal of taxes on sanitary products. Yet, they have yielded no results.
What other countries are doing In Ghana’s 8th Parliament, there are 37 women out of 275 parliamentarians, women who are part of the country’s decision-making process. In the current parliament with a shoe-string majority, these are women without whom bills cannot be passed. These are 37 women whose collective role goes beyond speaking only for their constituents; they must also speak for all women. Unfortunately, they remain silent. Meanwhile, in Namibia, there has been a move to remove taxes on menstrual products following a motion filed by the country’s Deputy Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Emma Theofelus.
In 2017, the former President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta signed a law that mandates the government to provide free, sufficient and quality sanitary towels for girls in school. This move came after the country scrapped taxes on sanitary pads to make them affordable.
In the same year, Botswana’s parliament adopted a motion to provide sanitary pads for all women of school-going age. The decision was a result of a motion tabled by a Member of Parliament.
The South African government in 2018 eliminated the tampon tax and provided schools in the country with free period products.
Scotland, New Zealand, Uganda, Zambia, Germany and Canada are but just a few countries that have made attempts to make sanitary products accessible and affordable.
What is the way forward?
CSOs, NGOs, youth and other advocacy groups have and continue to make menstrual products available and accessible to girls and women in schools and even in prisons. It is about time the government does its share of the work.
Rather than giving out bicycles, gas cylinders and cash to electorates and delegates for votes, all parliamentarians—not just women – should make it a part of their crusade to make sanitary products available and accessible to schools in their constituencies.
In particular, the voices of women in high places should ring loud. Maybe, just maybe, it will prompt some discourse and deliberations on the matter.
Perhaps, President Akufo Addo’s one district, one factory initiative should include an indigenous sanitary pad manufacturing factory. With that, there will be no need to charge import taxes on sanitary products, thereby, making them affordable.
Our period counts, for it is the beginning of womanhood ….
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