Civil rights groups have called for the removal of value-added tax on sanitary pads in a bid to help more girls attend school during their menstruation periods as well as boost the prospects of better performance at work.
The call, activists say, would complement existing initiatives such as the Icyumba cy’Umukobwa, loosely translated as The Girl’s Room, which was introduced in schools in 2015.
Under the programme, schools distribute free sanitary pads, towels, pain killers, a bed, water and soap to the girls during their menstruation period.
However, the removal of taxes would ease the pressure on schools and make the pads more accessible, they argue.
The push comes at a time when World Bank figures show that at least 20 per cent of schoolgirls in the country, particularly in rural areas, miss school (up to 50 days per year) because they cannot afford sanitary pads.
It adds that some women miss work because they have limited access to menstrual pads.
“A lot of the responsibility of maintaining the girl’s room falls on the schools. The Government provides a budget of Rwf100,000, I believe, per term, it’s not enough. The efforts shouldn’t be limited to the schools, that’s just a starting place, there’s still a lot to be done,” said Isabelle Akaliza, an advocate for menstrual health and hygiene.
For Jeanne Miliriza, the founder of Tubahumurize Association, which produces reusable sanitary pads; “Tax reduction on sanitary pads would facilitate us to produce more pads on lower price which would ease the accessibility.”
She added that women who can’t afford the pads embark on other risky options such as torn clothes or polythene bags, making the case for making sanitary pads more accessible.
Julian Ingabire Kayibanda, an advocate for menstrual health says that Rwanda, as a third world country, women live in less-resourced settings, whereby they lack facilities that come along with the sanitary pads such as water, changing rooms for young girls who are still in school, soap among others.
“Government needs to provide all incentives possible to ensure the accessibility: such as removing taxes and subsidizing sanitary pad projects,” she said.
Kayibanda proposed that Other than tax reduction, the government also should provide some free sanitary pads and distribute them in different places on considerable time, this will help some women and girl to be comfortable during their menstrual period.
“We need to move even further and faster on this journey of total women’s emancipation and I believe that removing every single tax on sanitary equipment is another step in the right direction.”
The 2014 UN report said that 1 in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa missed school during their menstruation period.
Some girls reportedly lose 20 per cent of their education, for this reason, making them more likely to drop out of school altogether, the report said.
GMO ready to facilitate
Rose Rwubuhihi, the Chief Executive Officer of Gender Monitoring Office says that the education policy emphasises the distribution of pads in schools. She, however, says that the policy needs to be broadened.
“We are ready to facilitate,” she said.
Benjamin Gasamagera, the Chief Executive Officer of Safari, a centre that produces hygiene paper products, including sanitary pads, that projects to ease access to sanitary pads are indeed needed.
He disclosed that, by October this year, in partnership with World Vision, Safari Centre will start producing cheap accessible pads, which coast Rwf300 from the current Rwf800.
The partnership with World vision intends to ease the accessibility of pads on a small price, Gasamagera said that this will increase the accessibility to sanitary pads on schools under World Vision as they will be distributing them in schools.