The Tampon Tax: Approved?

verre-sang

Be it the one guy that explains in all caps how razors are a necessity as compared to sanitary napkins that can be judicially used if women “hold in their flow”, or that one sjw artist who used free bleeding as an annual college project or a magazine article to erase social stigma around the bodies of women; everybody has strong opinions and if asked too many questions, they all employ the classic namecalling card to back out from further discussion.

Twitterati is up in flames over the new GST rates declared for 1211 items: among which, items like glass bangles, bindis and sindoor is tax exempt while sanitary pads and tampons are at the second lowest tax slab of 12%. Improvement as earlier, they were at 14%. Questions include why the inclusion of bangles, bindis and sindoor as agents of beautification are included in the list of “basic amenities”, indeed, why? coming back to this later, how the government can exploit women by capitalizing the natural process of tending to a healthy uterus. And thus we go downhill from there, backed by the ever righteous policy of some feminists to bring down inequality through hashtags, people protesting the price rise (where?) in the name of poorer families. A lot of it has been triggered, oops, by the unexpected turn up of cosmetics and accessories alongside bread and milk in a policy to provide the underprivileged with the highest priority needs. This plainly translates as apathy towards women’s healthcare, a fragile subject in the divided parts of our society.

Or does it.

Criticizing the government, I believe, is one of the finest productive leisure activities mankind has happened to chance upon, excluding the creation of a government of course, but somewhere in the corners of our social media profiles my keyboard winces at me as I type, we also detach ourselves from self assessment. Signing a petition in seconds relieve us from the pain of taking time to think about alternatives and more immediate action, as does putting the blame on the position of power instantaneously. Because you see, the act of caring enough to build a stand is justified, even appreciable. Effective, however?

Here is what I think can turn the tampon tax to our advantage; a feminist’s advantage.

To start off, this does not mean I advocate for higher taxes on tampons, on bindis, on alcohol, on anything, really in any form. Taxes do go against the fundamental principle of volutaryism, which is to say…a controversial topic at the very least, one that I am not ready to step further in at this moment. Unfortunately we are currently in a position where everything we can contribute to welfare is either through taxes, or through our own production. (Shout out to Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social entrepreneur who innovated a method of making pads that can be made and sold for a fraction of the commercial varieties, and who is trying to revolutionize pad production and menstrual awareness in rural India) In a way, this post is not only or mostly about whether or not tampons should or should not be tax exempt, but more about what needs to happen if they are not, or in the meantime they are not. If. If we want to keep contributing besides protesting. But as we’re still on debating rates, I am firstly detailing on why we should not let menstrual supplies be GST exempt.

A minimal exemption list makes sense. The reason is simple. Exemptions break the GST chain, increase the chances of evasion and lead to systemic inefficiencies, defeating the goal of GST. Moreover, industry’s demand for a lower rate can be met only when all indirect taxes get subsumed in GST, and exemptions are minimum. -TOI, ET

Given that to lower or simplify any tax budget, we need to make as few exemptions as possible; it irks me, as a woman who bleeds every month, that tampons should be one of them, and here is why.

Money doesn’t just fall out of the sky to help someone somewhere who has a right that’s violated. Healthcare is a right. Housing is a right. Food is a right. There are only three ways people can change their lifestyle to afford the rights they don’t have- charity, welfare or production/employment. This in no way implies that people who have none of the three don’t deserve their rights, as production is surely linked to these rights themselves, even dependent on them. This does, however, show that our society is not equipped enough to provide those assistance who can give back nothing in return yet. (will never be, but that’s for later) Sindoor for one has low cost of manufacturing, and can even be homemade with common ingredients. Tampons and sanitary napkins need factories, chemicals, packaging and testing, in brief, a lot of expensive, collective work, along with the huge, more or less constant demand from the middle class women whose lifestyle choices have made them aware that it’s a necessity. Raw material used for the manufacture of sanitary napkins, cellulose and cotton fibers attract GST between 12% to 18%, so manufacturers are paying more tax than consumers. It’s not difficult to now imagine the pressure in maintaining the quality of output if demand keeps growing to making this item more accessible, but funds keep getting cut due to indirect tax evasion by consumers for a product that already deserves a refund.

“Though, within the existing GST law such accumulated input tax credit will be refunded, it will have associated financial costs (interest burden) and administrative cost, putting them at a disadvantage vis-a-vis imports, which will also attract 12 per cent IGST on their imports, with no additional financial costs on account of fund blockage and associated administrative cost of refunds,” the statement said. – Business Standard

So whom are we risking this healthcare product for? Ourselves?

More importantly, how many are we risking it for? Not exactly half the population of India. It’s women in their reproductive prime, that would be around a quarter or slightly more of the entire population. Grim studies, however show different numbers. Around 85% of Indian women use cloth as a menstrual absorbent, but only 65% are aware of sanitary pads existing, through TV. This poses some uncomfortable questions on whether affordability is the main reason so many women stay away from medical essentials. Some have even stated they prefer to use cloth, a dangerous assumption that can be cleared with education but then again, nearly half have missed school because of menstruation itself. There are also no less than a hundred taboos and myths breathing the same air due to prejudice and religion, which prevents them from exploring more options, even as simple as being given free tampons, since they wouldn’t know how to put them to use. So besides women who may understand a user manual but cannot afford sanitary napkins, there are also a fair share of women who are uncomfortable in being given the option of accessible menstrual supplies itself. In both cases, they need external assistance. By that I don’t mean just free samples, but free education as well. Since nothing is free, the responsibility is that of the state, right? Guess whose pockets the state empties before doing its work?

If that does wrap up the argument for “No, menstrual supplies can neither be tax exempt nor be underfunded”, here is one of my firm yet ‘what am I doing’ moments of jumping the socialist bandwagon, something that frequently happens when I discuss healthcare and education. This is the argument in defense of the tampon tax, the only one here that relies more on personal ideology rather than facts: Women who have been able to pay for sanitary towels till now, are in the small, privileged, circle who will continue to pay for them, irregardless of minor price changes, (again, there’s no price rise so I don’t get the sudden cyber-backlash) being accustomed to a healthier, risk-free lifestyle that deserves to be lived by all women. If this is the case, why whine about the tax that capable women can hand over if only for the cause of other women from lower income families? This tax, IF NOT MISUSED and till it’s in effect, is a way to direct public money through influencing political interests towards building welfare programmes and ration cards that can include menstrual amenities in it as well. (Question: Why not have men pay taxes as well, for the same? Well, sigh, men don’t bleed. Women are more than the responsibility of men over their sisters, daughters, wives and mothers, and we should be able to pay for ourselves. Personally I believe constraints are big factors for success and can level up competition, industrial spirit and entrepreneurship – http://www.mitufoundation.org/donate_for_dignity_during_periods – and eventually lead to more affordable services that we, as women, OF ALL CLASSES will have a greater role to partake in rather than have men compulsorily paying away our necessary expenses forever in the name of morality. To the men reading this, whether you’re smirking or raising your eyebrows, I will say it’s honorable to provide for the cause of women, but also, liberally speaking, there is no honor in paying for what you absolutely don’t wish to. Or we can manage without your help, thanks no thanks)

I mean I for one would be happy to see my period as a luxury if it meant women in more need than me were benefiting from it. *sent from my iphone*

#bourgeoisiefeminism #whydoesthatnotexist #ohright

So I’m done talking about tampons and sanitary napkins. And other alternatives like menstrual cups as well, safe sanitation, sustainable, biodegradable options, and to be honest I am glad the information on these are finally spreading in the light of GST’s tax rates. Which brings me back to actually acknowledging the fact that for some goddamn reason on earth are bindis, sindoor and glass bangles are free from tax? Why should government be responsible for making straight up hygiene unrelated grooming products even close to a requirement? What logical purpose would that serve? Somehow even though these two are connected in every #LahukaLagaan post that portrays how these tax amendment values beautification over safe periods, therefore, once again, objectifying and devaluing women, personally, I find it more suspicious than outrageous. There has always been a not-so-subtle male dominance over our culture, but to take on account ridiculous items like bindis and chudiyan so sincerely right in 2017, bringing them directly into the tax exemption plan by a political party that has always orated more than done is downright unbelievable. It makes me wonder if the tax plan, just like more than half their other recent policies are not a consequence of patriarchy, but more like a consequence of hindu pride.

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