By Felogene Anumo
As the prices of items start to go up this week with the VAT Act 2013 taking effect, we would like to commend the move by Parliament and the National Treasury to maintain sanitary towels on the VAT tax-exemption list. Notably, sanitary towels are not luxury items and as such, any tax levied on the products not only claws back on the gains that the country has made in promoting girl child education, but also risks negating the achievement of Millennium Development Goals 2 and 3: (Achieving universal primary education and promoting gender equality and empowering women) and the realization of Kenya Vision 2030.
Education provides life-changing opportunities for many girls and women. Menstruation is the most contributing factor to school absenteeism and poor academic performance among schoolgirls. Recently, a local Kenyan TV station registered shock waves across the country when they aired a feature: “Period of Shame”. The feature reveals shocking details of how girls miss school during their menses and opt to use goat skin, chicken feathers, soil and even leaves during their menses for lack of an option.
Lack of affordable sanitary towels in Kenya causes infections among adolescent girls and consequently lowers their primary school attendance and participation. The cost of sanitary ware and towels is beyond the reach of most young women and girls, who in Africa are the majority of the unemployed and those living below the poverty line. Most girls end up not going to school, because they cannot afford to buy sanitary ware. On average, a girl will have 13 menstruation circles a year. This means that with the effect of a 16 percent Value Added Tax and other related taxes, parents will need as much as KES 120 (about US $1.50) for a packet containing eight sanitary pads each month. For most parents this is too costly, especially in a country where majority of the people live on less than a dollar a day.
Recently, the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) passed a resolution that urges partner states to waive taxes on sanitary pads in the region so as to increase their quality, availability and affordability for young girls. We urge the Government of Kenya to show her commitment to Kenyan women and girls by putting in place a clear policy stating the zero taxation on sanitary towels so as to protect girls and women from any future taxation on the products. It is only through such deliberate efforts that we can address barriers that negate the retention of girls in school which include but are not limited to prohibitive and hidden costs to achieving universal primary education. There is pressing need to address menstrual issues so that the girl child can realize her full potential in relation to schooling and participation in public life.
“Reproductive freedom is critical to a whole range of issues. If we can’t take charge of this most personal aspect of our lives, we can’t take care of anything. It should not be seen as a privilege or as a benefit, but a fundamental human right.”
― Faye Wattleton