Fight Against Period Poverty: Progressive or Regressive?

By – Sindhuj Thapa

Even in today’s progressive society, social conventions, gender-structured mindsets, and patriarchal beliefs are significant enough to prevent women and girls from realising their full potential and exercising their fundamental rights. In a poverty stricken country like Nepal menstruation is a huge taboo.  

Poverty line in Nepal is considered as earning less than Rs. 50 per day. According to the World Bank 25.2% of Nepalese live below the poverty line. In a developing nation like this where people still struggle to put food on the table not only are sanitary pads expensive but the government  charges an additional 13% VAT making sanitary hygine products unaffordable and inaccessible to all. 

According to health experts, a sanitary pad should be changed in 4 – 6 hours for hygienic purposes which are around 16 pads per menstruation. Considering the average cost of 1 pad is Rs.12, a menstruating individual should spend approximately Rs. 192 per menstruation. However, a portion of that spending on menstrual products could be avoided if governments recognized sanitary pads as necessary items instead of classing them as luxury goods. According to Pad2Go, a social enterprise advocating for VAT exemption in menstrual hygiene products without 13% VAT, a menstruating individual will be saving Rs 11,380 in a lifetime.

In response to the demand and advocacy by humanitarian and social activists to make menstrual hygiene products affordable and accessible in Nepal the government made announcement of a tax waiver in the annual budget for the fiscal year 2022-23.The government has announced a 90 percent waiver on the custom tax being imposed on the import of sanitary pads and 1 percent on the import of its raw materials. This decision was however not welcomed by domestic pad producers as the government only waived custom tax on packaged sanitary pads and only some raw materials but the  budget has not addressed the 5 percent excise duty on some raw materials and packaging materials. Due to which, domestic producers have to pay more tax on raw materials than finished goods.

This also contradicts the budget formulated for the fiscal year 2022/2023 to control imports that has led to loss of foreign exchange reserves, and promote domestic industries and  increase exports. 

Not only that, to mitigate the stigma surrounding menstruation and its impact on menstruating individuals, the Nepal government has worked towards drafting the National Dignified Menstruation Policy, 2017 . The policy opens the door for more Nepali businesses to produce it there and declares that it intends to turn it from a luxury item to a basic necessity item. The legislation also mentions tax breaks and subsidies for companies making them in Nepal. The current Tax waiver contradicts both National Dignified Menstruation policy and the Budget formulated by the same government.

I believe this is the bare minimum done by the government to distract the movement in favor of the personal interest of some big traders who import pads as the government still charges 13% VAT on sanitary products. All taxes involved in sanitary pads should be completely waived if the government wants to make sanitary hygiene products accessible to all and promote dignified menstruation.  

The National Dignified Menstruation Policy only includes women and doesn’t address the issues faced by menstruating individuals and physically challenged people. A modified and inclusive version of the “National Dignified Menstruation Policy” should be passed if the government wants to be progressive. Menstrual cups, tampons, reusable pads, and disposable pads should all be made widely and affordably available. The government should also ensure that we gradually phase them out and promote domestically produced pads. To promote accessible and hygienic menstrual health for all, the focus should be not only on removing taxes on sanitary pads or distributing them for free, but also on education on menstrual hygiene, awareness, infrastructure, and removal of the prevailing social taboos.