Now-a-days when newsfeed of our social network often gets inundated with grim pieces of news like murder, rape, extortion, public fund misappropriation, war, riot or famine, it is for last two days that netizen in Bangladesh have witnessed the collective angst of Bangladeshi net user women over exorbitant imposition of VAT on sanitary napkins. Bangladeshi women, probably for the first time in their lives, have become this much vocal on “culturally sensitive” issues like use of sanitary napkin, menstruation and other related topics which are generally perceived as “matter of shame/disgrace” or “issues not to be discussed/revealed in public” by any “decent, gentle” woman of “good morals” or coming from an `educated and middle class family background’ etc. etc.
It’s not only the situation in orient or South Asian nations like ours in particular. What’s about west? As feminist Audra Johnson illustrates, “The most obvious locus of the normative male body and the resulting disadvantage for the menstruating woman is the workplace. Menstruating etiquette requires that women continue to conceal their menstruation from co-workers and employers even when it may cause their work to be more difficult. While a non-menstruating co-worker may complain about a cold that is slowing down his or her work, a menstruating woman is not allowed even to mention her condition (Toward a Phenomenology of Menstration).
Anyway, let us come to the issue of VAT again. Last year around 40% VAT was imposed upon sanitary napkins and this year it remains the same. Many have mistaken the last year’s decision to be this year’s budgetary stance and hence the activists particularly the feminist activists have stormed the social network and other platforms of media in protest for last couple of days. It is, however, not important to know that if the imposition of such high excise on sanitary napkins was decided last year or this year. The decision itself is problematic. As the sanitary napkin is not any luxury good. The mere logic of imposing high tax over the imported goods (here it is sanitary napkins that are imported from abroad) for the sake of sustaining of the home based sanitary napkin manufacturing industry is not a good logic at all. Our sanitary napkin manufacturing industries are yet to be self-sufficient. Hence the government decision to keep intact the high excise on sanitary napkins cannot be termed as a “sound decision.” Also this decision contradicts with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of our government to reduce the maternal mortality rate and protecting women’s health. Thus the government efforts on the one hand to protect women’s health and continuing the exorbitant rate of VAT on Pad reflects the self-contradictory stance of our government in the question of women’s reproductive health, acceding to a recent article by reputed Journalist Ms. Nadira Kiron in Bengali in another women’s news portal.
The most important thing is we must consider that what a little percentage of women in our country can use sanitary napkins. About 11,956 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Bangladesh every year and over 6,582 die of the disease, according to a study of International Agency for Research on Cancer –IARC (The Daily Star, January 19, 2018). Besides early marriage, using or adopting different unhygienic methods during the continuation of period is the cause of sharp rate of untimely death within women. Still majority of women in the villages and mofussil towns use a worn out piece of cloth during period, wash it after use for one time and then try to dry it hiding every one’s particularly the men’s eyes in the family…thus the cloth does not get even adequate sunlight to be dried in a proper way and become germless. Most of the adolescent girls and women put half-dry, worn out and dirty pieces of cloths into their vaginas again and again during the crucial time of their monthly cycles which expose them to imminent risks of cervical cancer. Again some women and girls even in urban, middle class families often use tissues or cotton to reduce the economic pressure of purchasing costly sanitary napkin packets. But tissues or cotton may get absorbed into uterus via vagina which is simply menacing for the reproductive health of women.
Yes, we cannot make liable only the lack of awareness for such things. Rather we should admit that it owes to the deplorable socio-economic condition of majority of people in Bangladesh that our women are yet to adopt the system of using the hygienic and convenient form of sanitary napkins, journalist Nadira Kiron rightly mentioned in her article.
Today when even the Asian countries like Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan or large companies like NIKE have labor law provisions to support women employees during their monthly cycles (for example, taking leave for two to three days during periods), it is expected that the governments or big companies will be more sensitive to the overall health issues of women.
We come to know from another article published in this site of NAARI that how countries like Canada or Australia or Kenya abolishes tax on women’s sanitary napkins.
It is against this backdrop that we implore our government to reduce the VAT on tampons or sanitary napkins in our country. Also our heartfelt thanks to all the women activists in Bangladesh who have literally commenced the “third wave” feminist movement here with the campaign on “No Vat on Pad.”