The taboo on talking about menstruation in India may finally be breaking.
It is a country where some 300 million women use rags instead of sanitary pads when they’re menstruating, where some villages still require girls to stay in menstrual huts away from their homes during their periods, and where 20% of adolescent girls drop out of school because of lack of clean and private facilities to deal with their periods.
But a sudden outpouring of popular support for talking about — and changing policy around — menstruation could signal an imminent change to those statistics, and a brighter future for millions of Indian women.
A social media campaign demanding the end of a tax on sanitary pads swept across Twitter in India this week, coinciding with an online petition launched by an Indian MP who hopes to bring about real policy change in Indian tax law.
Drawing support from Bollywood actors, politicians, comedians, and writers, along with thousands of everyday citizens, the hashtag #lahukalagaan – meaning “tax on blood” – demanded an end to the 12%-14% luxury tax rate imposed on pads and tampons, according to the Guardian.
The country is currently undergoing tax reform in which all goods will be taxed under a federal system, meaning that the social media activists and lawmakers who support them have a real opportunity to bring about change on the “tax on blood,” according to the report.
Indian MP Sushmita Dev also launched an online petition calling for and to the tax that has already gathered more than 200,000 signatures. Dev told the Guardian that she saw the tax as deeply unfair since women naturally bleed every month.
“If we can afford to make contraceptives free why can’t we scrap this?” she said.
Dev has taken up menstruation as an issue relating to her constituents health and ability to get an education. She told the Guardian she was asked by one nonprofit group to help secure a sanitary pad dispenser for a small village and realized how widespread the problem of access was for girls in the country.
“I realised how many girls weren’t going to school because of this,” she said.
The other problem, Dev noted, is the cultural taboo.
“I met one young girl who thought she was going to die when she had her period. She thought her insides must be rotting away and that she had been cursed. Nobody had told her what menstruation was. That’s when it hit me, how important this is.”
Dev is now campaigning on access and affordability to menstrual hygiene supplies, which, coupled with the social media campaign, could lead India to join just a handful of other countries that have abolished luxury taxes on pads and tampons, including Kenya and Canada. Many states in the US continue to tax tampons, along with countries like the United Kingdom and France.