With the advent of the Goods and Service Tax (GST) from July 1, 2017, an unnecessary burden has been placed on small business traders and the common masses. Apart from that, there is one particular aspect of GST- which specifically affects girls and women. This pertains to the fact that sanitary pads and tampons will attract 12 per cent tax under the luxury goods. At the same time, gold, Sindoor, bangles etc. have been exempted from the tax (all symbols of domesticated, married women in some form or the other). This indicates the ideological leanings of the present government that the biological needs of women such as access to safe and affordable sanitary pads is a luxury while the image of an ideal Hindu married women is something to be celebrated.
Even before the GST was rolled out, various groups and individuals including the Congress MP from Assam, Sumita Dev, had submitted a memorandum to the Finance Minister requesting that the tax on sanitary napkins should be revoked. Despite protests from various corners, the government went ahead with the tax. It is in this context, the activists of Students Federation of India (SFI) started sending sanitary napkins to the Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley demanding the immediate withdrawal of GST on sanitary napkins. The campaign has been popular and Jaitley may receive hundreds of sanitary napkins by July 14.
In the first phase of the campaign, sanitary napkins with the slogan “bleed without fear”, “bleed without tax” were sent by students from various campuses across the country. The idea was conceived by a Delhi University student Anuradha who posted a video on Facebook which later went viral. Subsequently, thousands of such sanitary pads have been sent from Delhi, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and other states.
However, the campaign is not just limited to the GST on sanitary pads. It seeks to build a strong movement against the stigma around menstruation. Also, there is the aspect of accessibility–wherein 70 per cent of the menstruating women do not have access to safe sanitary pads. A lot of news reports state that a large number of young girls drop out school after the menstrual age. Hence, the campaign also put forth the demand for sanitary pad vending machines in all educational institutions.
The LDF government of Kerala has initiated the She Pad scheme under which free sanitary pad vending machines have been installed in all government higher secondary schools in the state. The administrative bodies of self financing and private educational institutions have also been directed to adhere to this. Along with this, the campaign also wants the government to provide sanitary napkins at the minimum price to woman below the poverty line in rural areas to promote their menstrual hygiene.
We hope to shake the status quo about gender and sexism through this campaign and have bigger battles in future. Let there be clamour again, let the world know women bleed, let us bleed without tax, and without fear!