On Wednesday, Rwanda’s ministry of gender said the government has abolished the payment of tax on sanitary pads in a move meant to lower the cost of the product. Before this development, an 18 percent value-added tax (VAT) was placed on pads.
“Moving to the right direction, from now onwards, the Government of Rwanda has added Sanitary Pads to a list of goods that are VAT exempted in a bid to ease their affordability,” Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion-Rwanda said in a tweet.
According to reports, a pack of ten sanitary pads currently sells for $1.07 (around Rwf1,000), a price that has proved prohibitive for some Rwandans. The problem has had a big impact on their lives according to activists cited by the BBC.
“For many girls and women, especially in rural areas, the cost of the pads is too high. Many still rely on reusable cloth pads” women’s activist Saidath Murorunkwere told the British broadcaster. She added that this is risky because women are more likely to get infections.
The situation also affects their education. Aline Berabose, a Rwandan reproductive health activist, told the British broadcaster that girls in poor families are known to miss school when they are on their periods as they cannot afford the pads.
More so, a 2016 UNESCO report says one in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa is absent from school during their menstrual cycle. Putting these issues into consideration highlights how important the exemption of pads from VAT is.
But consumers are yet to see if only the tax exemption is sufficient in reducing the price of pads in Rwanda’s local stores. That may be unlikely, however, looking at the case of Tanzania.
Dar in 2018 scrapped VAT on sanitary pads to make them more affordable. But in April this year, Deputy Minister of Finance and Planning, Ashatu Kijaji, complained that prices of sanitary pads remained high despite the government excluding them from the duty.
According to the official, the government received many complaints from users that the product was still too expensive in the local market, meaning the VAT exemption was only benefiting traders at the expense of women and the government.
After research showed that scrapping of the tax did not help to lower consumer prices in the domestic market, Tanzania reintroduced VAT on sanitary products in June.
While the move by the Rwandan government is commendable, there are other factors that come into play in ensuring the affordability of sanitary pads for girls. For instance, most of the imported sanitary pads are inherently expensive. While local production costs are usually high due to the cost of importing raw materials, plus high income and excise duties. Since local producers have to import raw materials at a cost, perhaps reducing excise duty as well would have a significant impact on pricing.
Rwanda can also complement the VAT exemption by supplying state schools with pads like Kenya, in line with its Basic Education (Amendment) Act of 2016. The initiative has been credited with keeping a huge number of girls in school.
In East Africa, Uganda also scrapped VAT on sanitary pads in the 2017/2018 budget, which took effect from July 2017. Meanwhile, other countries like Canada, Nigeria, Australia, Lebanon, and India do not tax sanitary pads in order to enable women and schoolgirls to access them at affordable rates.