As a young Indian woman I am acutely aware of the social stigma attached to menstruation in our country. Your periods must not be talked about, your sanitary napkins must be strategically hidden, and you should definitely not put your hand in the pickle jar. But for me, my period is a time when I am reminded of the uniqueness of the female anatomy and the importance of self care. As uncomfortable as I have felt, having to disguise my sanitary napkin while making a run for the bathroom without it being seen, not once have I had to think of my personal hygiene as an unaffordable luxury. Unfortunately for more than 80% of the women in our country, menstrual health is nothing but an urban dream.
Your periods must not be talked about, your sanitary napkins must be strategically hidden, and you should definitely not put your hand in the pickle jar?
Instead of using Sanitary Napkins, a vast majority of Indian women are forced to use things like dried leaves, sand, ash, unsterilised cloth, paper and even plastic, because they cannot afford feminine hygiene products. In a country where 23% of girls drop out of school on reaching menarche, incidence of Reproductive Tract Infection is 70% more common amongst women who do not use hygienic materials during menstruation and high rates of cervical cancer are connected to poor feminine hygiene, Sanitary Napkins are still taxed. That is not acceptable.
Napkins tax-free under GST, better implementation of government schemes to ensure accessibility at a low cost specially to women in rural India and to install Sanitary Napkin vending machines in public bathrooms and offices, among our other prayers.
We at SheSays believe that every woman in our country should have equal and complete access to menstrual hygiene and sanitation. When 80% of Indian women do not use sanitary napkins due to affordability, taxing them as luxury items is an insult on top of injury. Hence we started petitioning for this cause in 2016 and have recently sent out legal representations on behalf of women at large, to 15 concerned government officials. Our representation enumerates specific demands to make Sanitary Napkins tax-free under GST, better implementation of government schemes to ensure accessibility at a low cost specially to women in rural India and to install Sanitary Napkin vending machines in public bathrooms and offices, among our other prayers.
Our campaign #LahuKaLagaan took twitter by storm with influencers from all fields asking The Hon’ble Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to take the SheSays representation into consideration and look into our demands. Comedians, Journalists, Artists, Bloggers, men, women and everyone in between, put out tweets and videos as a universal plea to make Sanitary Napkins tax-free.
It is at a time like this, before the GST schedules are announced that we needed to strike the hardest to be heard. By mobilising public support, the campaign is a means to demand the attention of policymakers towards our cause. We are determined to influence a policy level change and will not quit in our efforts until we do so. This is what youth focused activism looks like.
As a women’s rights NGO, we realised that there is a plethora of obstacles that the Indian woman faces and that we cannot tackle issues including gender based violence, or the need for women to have access to education without addressing the other significant barriers that women in our country are subject to on a daily basis. A drop in an ocean of steps towards change, removing tax on Sanitary Napkins will not only have a direct impact on women, but will be a testament that the Indian Government is committed to work towards a gender equal society.
Dear Hon’ble Finance Minister, #LahuKaLagaan maaf kar dijiye. It is that time of the month!