The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is an indirect tax that was introduced in India in 2017, in order to replace multiple indirect taxes in the country. This tax was however, levied on sanitary napkins as well. GST of up to 12% was to be paid by the consumer on the purchase of sanitary napkins. This made the most basic product essential for maintaining menstrual hygiene, even more difficult to afford.
In a country like India, many women and girls still resort to using unhygienic methods to manage menstruation, because they are not able to afford or access sanitary napkins, or are still not aware of the benefits and importance of using them. In such a scenario, the entry of GST was only precarious.
However, after multiple efforts by various organisations and activists, the GST levied on sanitary napkins was exempted (from 12% to 0%). This decision was announced in parliament on Saturday, July 21, 2018. Family Planning Association of India (FPA India) welcomes this much-needed change. Access to sanitary napkins, and other health and hygiene facilities is the human right of every girl and woman, and it is necessary to ensure that they are empowered to exercise their rights.
FPA India has been working to empower young girls and women with their Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR), especially awareness and practices for menstrual health and personal hygiene management. Besides, training programmes and sensitisation workshops are conducted for teachers, parents, counsellors, peer educators, and even boys and men. FPA India has been engaging young people for more than five decades to empower them with information on SRHR. Some of them have even become change agents and volunteer to support other adolescents.
One of the recent case studies of FPA India includes an intervention project funded by a renowned organisation under their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), in order to create an income generation activity of manufacturing low-cost sanitary napkins and ensure menstrual hygiene for women. As per the plan, a sanitary napkin manufacturing machine was purchased and handed over to a Self Help Group (SHG) in a remote village in Gujarat, which was selected in consultation with the CSR team. Seven women from this SHG were trained in preparation of sanitary napkins and would manage and sell them at a nominal cost to women and girls from the village. Feedback received from the community was positive and encouraging. This project turned into a successful initiative to ensure menstrual health and hygiene for women and girls and empower them economically.
Similarly, many initiatives to distribute low-cost, affordable sanitary napkins to girls and women, have been undertaken by FPA India. Information and counselling on menstrual health and hygiene are essential components of the Adolescent Education Programme Plus (AEP+) conducted for in and out-of-school adolescents. This programme provides Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) to make them aware of their sexual and reproductive health and rights. Local Community Service Organisation (CSO) were also engaged as partners in other such initiatives.
FPA India believes that poor menstrual health and hygiene not only has an impact on girls’ or women’s physical health, but also on their socio-psychological health. Many a times girls tend to drop-out of school due to lack of facilities for menstrual hygiene, or due to unaffordability of sanitary napkins and hence the fear of staining in school. In , FPA India started an initiative, ‘Let’s Get Girls Back To School’ as a part of the TATA Mumbai Marathon, 2018, wherein they raised funds to ensure that adolescent girls were empowered with the following – low-cost, affordable sanitary napkins, iron supplements to prevent anaemia, Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE), and life-skill training to help them (school drop-outs) earn a living. An amount of INR 1080/- was calculated to provide these to one girl for an entire year. This initiative received an overwhelming response from individual and corporate donors who supported the initiative to empower young girls make their sexual and reproductive health choices.
FPA India has been and will keep undertaking such initiatives to empower young girls and women with adequate information and affordable products to maintain their menstrual health and hygiene, leading to their physical and psychosocial well-being. The exemption of GST on sanitary napkins should be utilised as a great opportunity to empower girls and women and increase their access to menstrual hygiene facilities.
(Written and published by Family Planning Association of India)