In a country where menstruation is hardly spoken about in public spaces, the internet has given a space to people for voicing their needs for a reform in policy.
India is a country where an estimated 88 pc menstruating women have no access to sanitary napkins. Even for the privileged few who do have access, the item is considered a luxury, if we take into consideration the tax imposed on it. Never mind the extreme physical discomfort many women endure during menstruation, the stigma attached to the very natural process has even made discourses on the subject difficult for women. At such a time, social media campaigns such as #LahuKaLagaan, which roughly translates to taxation on blood, comes as a step in the right direction.
Initiated by a not-for-profit organisation, SheSays, the online campaign has come at the time of the massive tax reform that the government is currently undertaking, with the passage of the Goods and Services Tax bill (GST). All set to change tax structures in states with a uniform application, GST can prove an important point of transition where the campaign can make an impact. The online campaign has aimed to urge the Government of India to entirely remove taxes on sanitary napkins. Some states in India charge up to 14.5 pc tax on this product, which most women use for around 30 to 40 years of their life, for almost a week, every month. Incidentally condoms and contraceptives are already exempt from taxes in India.
— SheSays (@SheSaysIndia) April 19, 2017
Earlier last month, Member of Parliament Sushmita Dev launched an online campaign urging for the same, on the online petitioning platform change.org. Here she stated, “A step needs be taken by the central government to make sanitary napkins tax free (like condoms and contraceptives) as it is an essential item which is a necessity for every woman.” She also categorically stated, “Affordability, ease of availability and accessibility needs to be at the forefront of this battle.”
— Sushmita Dev (@sushmitadevmp) March 8, 2017
One step forward
As celebrities took to joining this campaign, it is a step forward in bringing to the forefront realities and harsh conditions that women are subject to for no fault but their biological functions. India has joined a worldwide movement in urging the government to address a fundamentally patriarchal conception – the tag of luxury for an item that is undoubtedly necessary. What’s worse is a larger majority of women in the country find it difficult to even access sanitary napkins, leading them to use alternatives at times that not only result in discomfort but also health complications.
— Anu Menon (@ExLolaKutty) April 18, 2017
While this online campaign has addressed a part of the issue around menstruation, it can serve as a starting point for a larger, much needed conversation on the consideration of women in policy-making. As a clear example of ‘regulatory discrimination’, as some would have it, classification of sanitary napkins as a luxury item only reveals the apathy of a state to bodily functions of a woman that are completely natural and over which a woman practically has no control. American feminist, Gloria Steinem’s essay on menstruation, rings true now. She wrote, with the premise of men being subject to menstruation rather than women, “Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. (Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of commercial brands such as John Wayne Tampons, Muhammad Ali’s Rope-a-dope Pads, Joe Namath Jock Shields – “For Those Light Bachelor Days,” and Robert “Baretta” Blake Maxi-Pads).”