by Laura O’Connell
You may have heard the acronym ‘GST’ being used extensively over the past month or so, especially if you live here in India. Goods and Services Tax (GST) is an indirect tax applicable throughout India which replaced multiple cascading taxes levied by the central and state governments. Touted by the government to be India’s biggest tax reform in 70 years of independence, the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was finally launched on the midnight of 30 June 2017, though the process of forming the legislation took 17 years (since 2000 when it was first proposed).
The GST has been heavily criticised for adding high tax rates to essential items like menstrual products, soap, detergent and food whilst giving exemption to non-essentials such as sindoor (red powder used by married Hindu women), bangles and razors. Upon its introduction in the country, GST led to a number of protests by the business community, primarily due to an increase in overall taxes and hence the prices of goods.
This is a topic of contention around the world with unfair taxes on menstrual products in place in a number of countries. Essentially, taxing menstrual products is taxing people for a biological fact that they have no control over – after all, if razors are exempt and they enable people to manage hair growth periodically, why not menstrual products?
So, what does it mean exactly for Eco Femme?
Menstrual products in India previously were taxed at 5% but now have a GST rate of 12% added to them, – quite high considering half the population of India menstruates each month – they certainly don’t seem like a ‘luxury item’ to us! There was some uncertainty initially for us as to whether reusable and sustainable menstrual products like ours would be subjected to the same rate – our products are made from cotton and are washable and reusable up to 3 or more years. After much discussion and advice, we came to the decision that our products sold on our domestic shop would indeed come under the same rate.
How does it affect Eco Femme customers?
We feel strongly that we don’t wish to increase our prices to our customers and have done our best to absorb part of the GST. Our pads have increased by around 10 rupees each although we were able to review our pricing of our Make Your Own kit which is taxed at just 5% since it is not stitched cloth, and actually decrease its’ price to just 400 rupees. Our carry pouch is also taxed at 5% and we didn’t change the price.
Our only consolation to this unfair tax is that by purchasing reusable menstrual products like ours, you are only paying GST once rather than each and every month!
What about long-term?
There are a number of people actively protesting the taxation of menstrual products in India and in particular, the taxation of reusable, eco-friendly options.
- Member of Parliament, Sushmita Dev started a campaign 5 months ago calling for the removal of tax on menstrual products – to date this petition has gathered 306,685 supporters.
- Our friends over at Green The Red also created a petition earlier in this year to ask that reusable options specifically made exempt from tax.
- The MHM alliance has been thinking about how best to support this issue. They reached out to organizations, practitioners, researchers and policy analysts actively working on MHM in India to gather support for their proposal, advocating for 0% tax on sanitary pads under the GST schedule which has been shared with the Government of India.
This conversation is far from over, we hope with continued discussion and support, this tax will be lifted