A woman's monthly tax

By Shyranthi Dhurairaj

In a country with 4.2 million menstruating women, only 30% of them use sanitary napkins (SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council). This statistic is appalling and the truth in this is saddening. As a nation where 52% of its population is women, the reality that sanitary napkins are only an option to a handful 30% is an injustice.

A few weeks ago, we highlighted the absurdity of diaper taxes. The tax on diapers is so high that when calculated, for every three diapers bought, the Sri Lankan Government is ‘stealing’ at least one of them. The same applies for the case of sanitary pads and tampons where the government charges a colossal import tax of 101.2%. This 101.2% is on a woman’s basic need, but falls into the general pile of tax calculation without regard of its intrinsic value and purpose.

Are we so focused on our protectionist values that we cannot decipher how unfair and discriminatory it is to tax a women on something that is beyond her control?

A recent Roar article highlighted how most women cannot afford sanitary napkins and have to switch to using cloth rags instead. Cloth rags are both a sanitary and health concern. We are depriving women of what should be a basic right. The average price of a packet of 10 pads in Sri Lanka is Rs. 200. Imported pads are priced between Rs.200 – 250, and locally produced pads are also around Rs. 150 – 200. Protectionist taxes are meant to ensure that local production is boosted and that as consumers and women, we have diverse choice and a range of prices to choose from. However, the reality is that local producers actually have the comfort of enjoying a big profit margin per packet as the prices of the products in the market are high in itself, owing to taxes.

Import taxes on sanitary pads and tampons are calculated as follows:

Sanitary Napkins Tax Breakdown

We’ve also compiled a cross-tabulation of prices of pads and tampons globally:

Price per Pad.PNG

A cost of a single pad is 24% more in Sri Lanka than it is in USA and 26% more than the retail price of a sanitary napkin in India.

Price Per Tampon.PNG

On the other hand, tampons are limitedly available, and when they are, the price of a tampon in Sri Lanka is 20% more than it is in the states?

Aunt Flo’s visits usually are about 5 days long on average meaning that if 4 pads are used a day, a Sri Lankan women spends a total of Rs. 520 a month on something entirely beyond her control. This might not seem like a lot to most people reading this, but when you really look at it, for someone barely making minimum wage a day, this cost becomes a financial burden on them. If the average age of mensuration is between 13 – 45 years, this then means that a Sri Lankan woman spends at least Rs. 199,680 on sanitary napkins itself!

It seems like the rest of the world is progressing fast with global movements against discrimination and injustice. It seems like it’s about time we caught up with #MeToo and #Timesup. We don’t think it’s acceptable that you have to spend close to 200,000 just because you’re a woman. Do you?