The government of Tanzania is going back on the decision it made last year to remove Value Added Tax (VAT) from sanitary products.
Speaking at his 2019/2020 budget speech last week, the Minister of Finance and Planning Philip Mpango told parliament that there is no benefit in tax-free tampons and sanitary pads because retailers didn’t reduce their cost.
The minister’s announcement is a step back for girls and women in the country, where at least 16% of school-going girls reported that their period keeps them out of school.
But gender activists are speaking out against the decision.
Anna Henga of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) told news agency AFP: “The re-introduction of this tax is an unfortunate decision with heavy consequences for most women and girls.”
Dear @Umawalimu, the Gov of #Tanzania became a global leader on #menstrualhygiene by ending VAT on sanitary products. It is important that this remains and we all work together to ensure products are affordable and accessible for women and girls. #PediBilaKodi#ItsTimeForActionpic.twitter.com/Hj7c3tT3fT— MenstrualHygieneDay (@MHDay28May) June 19, 2019
She called on the government to subsidise sanitary products or to distribute them freely at government clinics, in order to help reduce the burden of period poverty and poor menstrual hygiene management in the country.
A report by UNESCO estimated that one in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa skip school when they are on their period, and that 20% of girls drop out of school due to period poverty.
In Kenya, a report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) found that “schoolgirls engage in transactional sex to pay for menstrual products, particularly for the younger, uneducated, economically-dependent girls.”
Tanzanian lawmaker Zitto Kabwe called on the government to reconsider its decision, telling AFP: “When we scrapped this tax the whole world applauded. And many countries followed suit. And now we want to take a step backwards.”
Meanwhile, a social media campaign called #PediBilaKodi, which means “pads without tax” in the Swahili language, is creating global awareness about the cost of going back to taxing sanitary products.
A decision by Tanzania's government to reintroduce a tax on sanitary pads and tampons has angered women in the country and we are also saying no to tax on sanitary pad and tampons.— Plat4om (@Plat4omLive) June 24, 2019
Most girls in rural areas miss school because of lack of these sanitary pads.#PediBilaKodipic.twitter.com/62tb0MDLKH
Goodluck Mlinga, another Tanzanian lawmaker, told AFP that girls from Tanzania’s rural areas are the hardest hit by period poverty.
“The high rate of school failures by girls in rural areas is largely due to their absence during their periods,” he said.
Mlinga said the government shouldn’t just remove tax; sanitary products need to be freely available and as accessible as condoms.
“The government freely distributes condoms used by some to commit adultery,” he said.“Why can't it give these pads freely to students.”
The only other African countries that have removed VAT on sanitary products are South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria.