For Indian women, menstruation is much more than biological; it is one more way of perpetuating gender discrimination. Superstitions and cultural taboos associated with periods have persisted at the cost of women’s health and safety, which is yet to be penalised under the law, unlike in certain countries like Nepal that criminalise discriminatory practices related to menstruation.
It took a landmark and complicated tax reform, the good and services tax (GST), to restart the conversation around menstrual hygiene in the country. The 12% tax on sanitary pads has angered activists and women’s rights groups who think women shouldn’t have to ‘pay’ for using an essential commodity. Early this week, the finance ministry justified the 12% GST to ET, saying pre-GST, the total tax on sanitary napkins was 13.68%; and reducing GST to nil would lead to denial of input tax credit to domestic manufacturers and thereby disadvantage them imports.
Industry sources said companies are working on the new prices, which would come into effect once the GST notification issued. FIHA is represented by companies like J&J, P&G, Dima Products, Kimberly Clark, Soothe Healthcare and MD Hygiene. The association issued a statement on the tax exemption, which is proposed to come into effect from July 27. In its statement, FIHA said, “While it was well intended, this decision is unlikely to achieve the objective for which it was designed — to make this essential category more affordable to consumers. The exemption of the finished product of sanitary napkins from GST effectively denies ITC to companies manufacturing in India. As a result, in order to offset the loss, the companies will not be able to pass any significant benefit to the consumers.”
Reduction in sanitary napkin prices is expected to be in the range of 1.5 to 2.5 per cent but not 12 per cent. However, tax experts say that the prices of sanitary napkins could go up after the GST exemption are unfounded.