No more Lahu ka Lagaan! The popular hashtag against taxing of sanitary napkins at 12% was trending last night after the GST council decided to exempt them from taxation. It’s a victory for women who have been agitating for about a year. The protest took a creative turn with people sending messages written on pads to the Prime Minister. What would he have done with those pads?
Huge win for us all -Sanitary napkins to be exempt from GST!
Thank you, GSTCouncil for doing what’s right by the women of India & dropping the #lahukalagaan @SheSaysIndia had filed a PIL over this issue along with other prayers in 2017.https://t.co/JjUmIRPtn8
— Trisha Shetty (@TrishaBShetty) July 21, 2018
The main argument, led by She Says India’s founder Trisha Shetty, was that bleeding is not a choice for women so why should we be taxed? Secondly, a majority of women cannot afford them, taxing them would further alienate them. Thirdly, lack of access to pads is the major reason girls drop out of school especially in rural areas. If they don’t drop out, their attendance and concentration are affected.
Increased use of sanitary napkins, however, is a municipal and environmental headache. Bangalore alone produces about 100 tonnes of sanitary napkin waste daily. India’s menstrual waste is estimated at 1,13,000 tonnes daily. A sanitary napkin is not biodegradable per se. Left on its own, it will take about 200 years to be degraded. It is not classified as medical waste, wet waste or dry waste as per current municipal rules. Most of the used napkins end up in landfills or water bodies. Incineration of pads contributes to air pollution by the release of toxins. Further sanitary workers could be exposed to pathogens in blood.
The government itself is concerned about these issues and has launched biodegradable pads called “Suvidha” at the rate of 2.5 rupees at Jan Aushadhi Kendras. These are sustainable and affordable. However, their use has not caught on yet (maybe talk less about hypothetical bullet trains and more about day to day issues?).
Recently there has been an upward rise in urban women switching to menstrual cups and reusable cloth pads. A menstrual cup is bell-shaped and inserted inside the vagina to capture the flow. It is removed, rinsed and reinserted every 6-12 hours depending on the flow. It is also sterilised before and after every period. When I was in school I was told that cups were for women who couldn’t afford pads. That is changing. More affluent women are turning to cups as evidenced by the rising membership of the closed and intimate Facebook group, sustainable mensuration India. At the same time even among women who are looking to make a change, there are many apprehensions regarding cups. First, the virginity hype but its a major roadblock to widespread usage of cups. Nervousness or fear tightens the vaginal muscles making insertion difficult and painful. That’s why cups are preferred by women who are sexually active.
The other popular alternative is cloth pads. Gross right? Aren’t they the old saree bits used by our grandmothers. They are partly why women were confined to a small corner in their homes every month and treated as untouchable. Modern-day reusable cloth pads are nothing like that. They are soft, comfortable, don’t stain easily and come with wings and cute prints (no I am not selling them). They are usually in a set of heavy flow days and lighter days with panty liners and a bag to carry the used ones. Once saturated, they have to be washed by hand and dried in sunlight to kill any odour/ pathogens.
Many of us are still reluctant to make the switch (including me). We may care about the environment on Facebook and during festivals but what about the day to day changes that we can make to reduce waste, pollution and consume fewer resources? Both cloth pads and cups achieve this. Not only are they environmentally the soundest choice, they are also economically far ahead. A cup lasts about 5 years and pads for about 3 years though their initial cost is much higher. Studies (and experience of users) have established that they are safer than pads and tampons. No rashes and no chance of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) with them.
As people become more aware of the environmental baggage that is left behind, they are creating some ingenious pads that are a perfect mixture of conventional and modern. Sanitary pads made out of corn fibre, for instance, are a great alternative to switch to as they are biodegradable (and quickly), affordable and safe to use. This is the newest thing in the feminine hygiene market.
Its great that there is no tax on ‘wings’ anymore, but we still have to move to more sustainable solutions, which might seem gross and backward at first but are best in the long run. Not just for the environment but also for us.