Tax Free Wings
Sujata Balagopal | Source: Change.org

People start to stare you, the moment you say the word sanitary napkin aloud, and why is that? because this is the country where talking about periods in a public sphere is a taboo. Just the sight of it makes people so uncomfortable that when you go to buy a pack of sanitary napkins they are first meticulously wrapped in a newspaper and then put it in a “black” plastic bag so that it is not on display. Why is buying a sanitary napkin a big deal? In India, talking about menstruation is a big NO NO, forget the public space, even families try to avoid discussing the female hygiene issues.

According to 2010 AC Nielsen survey, out of 355 million reproductive-age women, only 12% use the Sanitary Napkins, 80% can’t even afford them because of its absurdly high price.

The problem is that the government of India taxes the Sanitary Napkins under luxury item tax which is in the range 12-14.5%, now considering Sanitary Napkins as a luxurious item is stupid by itself but when you compared it with the ongoing governmental medical programme like distribution of free contraceptives to men, it makes this issue even more absurd. As if the discomfort caused by menstruation to a women isn’t enough the government of India likes to tax the hygienic sanitary pads and make them even more expensive, forcing those women who can’t afford it and use a unhygienic substitute like newspapers, leaves, rags under the risk of serious infections.

To put some light on this issue a non-profitable organization SheSays has started online campaign #LahuKaLagan which is certainly the first step to tackle this issue. This campaign is urging the Finance Ministry to exempt the tax on sanitary napkins completely which is good 12-14.5%. SheSays is an organisation based in Mumbai, dedicated to end sexual discrimination and increase empowerment of women in India. The primary objective of the organization is to make sanitary napkins tax free, ensuring the implementation of governmental schemes of providing low-cost pads and vending machines for the dispensation of sanitary pads be spread to other parts of the country.

This is what the organization says:

Tax Free Wings
Source: SheSays Twitter

Since then the campaign has gained a good support from public platforms like Twitter and Facebook with several celebrities and stand-up comedians tweeting to the finance minister to exempt the tax completely.

Here is what the organization is campaigning for:

#TaxFreeWings
Source: SheSays Twitter
#TaxFreeWings
Source: SheSays Twitter

SheSays sent a legal representation to provide women across the country with easy access to sanitary napkins to over 15 government officials. Out of 497 million women who constitute the Indian population, only 12 percent actually use sanitary napkins. The remaining population resorts to handcrafted alternatives like old fabric, rags, sand, ash, wood shavings, newspapers, dried leaves, hay and plastic.

This campaign is not to make sanitary napkins affordable to these 12% of women but is much deep rooted it is to bring about general awareness; it is a basic human right of women.

The worst part is the majority of women find it difficult to access them so they use alternatives which cause health issues and other biological problems. This forces girls in rural areas to avoid going to schools and colleges when they are on periods. In many places, women are restricted from entering worship places because they are on periods which are considered as unhygienic and impure. Menstruation is a biological process which is totally normal. And tagging sanitary napkins as a luxury product is unnecessary, menstrual hygiene products is not a luxury but it is a basic necessity.