SHARP EDGES with Bucky EVANS: Though the pandemic remains, don’t forget about taxes on blood

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If the government of Ghana was to tax every individual once a month for micturition, that would not only be unfair but unconstitutional and absurd. Imagine a scenario wherein the act of urinating is taxed? Once you urinate, you are obliged to pay taxes. Visualise the mayhem and embarrassment this situation might potentially breed.

There’d be a very insignificant fragment of Ghanaians who might be able to meet the expense, while a massive hunk of the populace would have no choice than to release pee on themselves and become foul-smelling, walking latrines. Several disadvantaged people might hold urine in their bladders longer than is safe, exposing them to life-threatening diseases and infections; while others would resort to using rags, paper, cloth or just about any unsanitary item to soak up the urine regardless of repercussions.  If this was your horrid reality, how would you struggle through?

Well, this is the reality for women and girls in the country and most parts of the world. Just as urinating is a way nature expels toxins from the human body, menstruation is an involuntary act predestined by nature – only it is experienced solely by the female gender.

The case described above is no different from burdening girls and women with taxes for passing blood recurrently. Presently, every female must pay a whopping 20 percent luxury tax on sanitary or menstrual hygiene products; and there is a growing momentum across the country to remove that offensive tax. Under the Harmonised System Code 9619002900 of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) that classifies goods in two main categories – luxuries and essential, sanitary pads are classified as luxury items and unjustly taxed.

This is yet another way for the Ghanaian economy to exploit women for going through a natural and normal process that enables them to ensure humanity’s continuance.

 

How such an essential product can be classified as luxury is a marvel.

I made a mental list of all the products one would consider luxurious, and I do not recall anyone ever saying “Hi, I’m having an extravagant period and it feels so luxurious; like a 2-week family vacation in the Maldives”.

Luxury reminds me of words like opulence, splendour, richness, affluence, extravagance, a bed of roses, frills – as opposed to the throbbing abdominal pain, hormonal changes, bloating, anemia, fatigue, dizziness, nausea and headaches which accompany menstruation.

 

If you still have doubts, here are three great reasons why the luxury tax should be removed:

Menstrual products are basic needs

 

In 2016, I took my first trip to a GEM outreach programme dubbed ‘GEM Inspiration-On-Wheels’ at one of the Senior High Schools in Ghana. Almost every girl in my breakout session had either a yeast infection or a urinary tract infection, and these are very painful infections. Now digging to understand why those infections were so rampant, I learnt that the girls had little or no access to sanitary pads. They would use rags, toilet paper, corn husks, or cement paper for several days – and these were contributing to their infections.

Think about the cumulative effect this could possibly have on their health. It had never occurred to me before what other women were doing with their periods because we were so busy keeping these topics to ourselves that nobody was talking about it. And we have built a culture of shame surrounding menstruation by hiding a biological process that creates all human lives. It was on these outreaches that I learnt girls as young as 12-years old grant sexual favours for pads.

 

Low-income women are gravely affected by these tariffs 

Females do not get to decide whether or not to get their periods. These high levies pointlessly burden underprivileged women and girls in rural areas, thereby creating a phenomenon known as ‘period poverty’. One of the reasons more girls miss out on school than their male counterparts is the lack of menstrual products; thereby limiting girls and creating a barrier between them and their life-long aspirations. If we are to wholly achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 (Quality Education) and Sustainable Development Goal 5 (Gender Equality), then we must take action now.

 

Taxes should be removed to foster Gender equity

Basically, women are paying taxes for being women. This tax is an impediment that simply exists because you have a vagina that bleeds. There are many of such impediments against women including pay gaps among others. So, if half of the population bleeds, it’s only fair that the country establishes policies whch will be committed to treating half the population fairly, taking into considerations the reality and challenges women go through during periods.

Oddly, condoms are tax-free and pads are not. The irony here is that, ideally, it should have been the other way round, as having sex is a choice but menstruation is not.

The good news is the advocacy and fight for axing taxes on menstrual hygiene products has gained global ground, and some countries have responded positively to go ahead and axe such taxes while others are in the process and yet others somewhere in-between – but the government of Ghana has made no move.

Kenya led the way by abolishing VAT on menstrual pads in 2004; Canada took its turn in 2015 by repealing its five percent (5%) tax rate; while India followed suit by axing its twelve percent (12%) tax on pads. In 2005, France reduced its tax on menstrual products from 20 to 5.5 percent, and Australia in 2018; Germany followed by slashing all the 19 percent tax imposed on tampons; and Rwanda joined the curve in 2019. While still wondering where Ghana sits in all this, some other countries like Scotland have taken a step further to make menstrual hygiene products available and free.

The Girls Excellence Movement (GEM) has for the past 10 years been acquiring and distributing sanitary pads on a monthly basis to girls in schools, and to women in some deprived communities. This is an attempt to reduce the burden while encouraging more girls to stay in school during their period.

Other sister organisations have formed coalitions and are currently accepting signatures from women, men, boys and girls to amplify the movement and petition Parliament. Stimulating conversations and influencing opinions surrounding menstruation are ongoing while beckoning government to do the needful. They continue to lead the campaign and won’t stop until government recognises that menstrual hygiene products are necessities and should be tax exempt.

We have an obligation for women and girls around the world and generations to come, to set a new tone around menstruation; to change it from shame and silence to support and acceptance.  Undoubtedly, sanitary pads are a silent necessity and it is time to roll back the onerous pricing of menstrual hygiene products.

Periods should not hold anyone back. Period!                                                            

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