Three weeks ago, Namibia’s Deputy Minister of Information, Emma Theofelus, tabled a motion that tax on sanitary products is removed or at least be reduced to three percent. “I ask that this matter be referred to the relevant standing committee and for the finance ministry to consider bringing an amendment to the tax laws relevant to this motion,” she said.
Fast forward to Monday, March 22, 2021, the Namibian government announced the elimination of taxes on sanitary pads. “I wish to announce this to enhance affordability by the girl child,” Finance Minister Iipumbu Shiimi said, urging suppliers and retailers to “pass on this relief to consumers once enacted.” The directive would take effect in the 2022/23 financial year.
Namibia is the latest among a few African countries to abolish tax on sanitary products, following Kenya, Zambia, Rwanda, South Africa, and Tanzania. Although Tanzania reinstated taxes on sanitary products after the government realised that retailers did not lower their prices.
Why the clamour and need to abolish period taxes? Period poverty is real. About 800 million women and girls menstruate daily but many do not have access to resources to be able to manage their menstruation safely and hygienically.
“Period poverty is one of the undignifying processes women and young ladies have to experience. Your period is such a natural process and not something one can opt-out of. There are not enough social and economic circumstances to create safety for young women.” – Emma Theofelus.
According to an article by the Nobel Peace Centre, 75 percent of Ethiopian women and girls do not have access to proper menstrual products and 25 percent of girls do not use any menstrual products during their periods, often resorting to using makeshift products like rags, newspapers, and dry grass. Globally, women and girls miss work and school because they cannot afford proper sanitary products. 30 percent of girls in Nepal and Afghanistan miss school during their periods and over 30 percent of girls interviewed in India nine years ago said they drop out of school once they reach puberty.
A widely cited statistic attributed to UNICEF claims one in 10 girls in Africa miss school when they have their periods. While both this claim and attribution is unfounded, a few local studies in African countries have shown varying degrees of absenteeism due to menstruation.
Generally, data on menstrual health and hygiene management is scarce, particularly in developing countries due to the stigma attached to menstruation. Lawmakers often shy away from talking about menstruation and raising concern about women’s menstrual health in parliament. These issues are part of why period poverty persists, hence the need for the continued campaign for menstrual equity globally.