Sanitary pads are now tax-free in India.
The Indian government has decided to scrap a controversial 12% tax on the feminine hygiene products, it announced late Saturday, marking a victory for campaigners who have lobbied against the tax for more than a year.
"[The country's] sisters and mothers will be happy to hear that sanitary pads have been given a 100% exemption and brought down to a tax rate of zero," the country's acting finance minister Piyush Goyal told reporters. "Now there will be no [tax] on sanitary pads."
Activists say removing the tax on pads tackles one of the biggest barriers to education for girls, who are often forced to stay at home due to a lack of access to clean hygiene products, while also facing stigma and a lack of toilets in schools.
Periods are among the leading factors for girls to drop out of school in India, where four out of five women and girls are estimated by campaigners to have no access to sanitary pads.
Last year, lawmaker Sushmita Dev launched a petition to demand a reduction or total removal of taxes on pads, citing that about 70 percent of women in India could not afford them.
The online petition gained more than 400,000 signatures.
Dev thanked all her supporters in a tweet on Saturday, and also criticized the government for taking more than a year to remove the tax on sanitary pads.
Bollywood’s first film on menstrual hygiene ‘Padman’, starring Akshay Kumar – one of Hindi cinema’s most popular action heroes – triggered debate over the taboo subject of menstrual hygiene in India after its release earlier this year.
Kumar is at the forefront of a campaign by Niine Movement, an initiative promoting menstrual hygiene, to help increase the number of women using pads.
Amar Tulsiyan, founder of Niine Movement, called Saturday’s decision ‘a big win for everyone’ in India, where, he said, 82 percent women and girls have no access to sanitary pads.
‘The tax exemption is a massive boost,’ he said.
Many Indians celebrated the new tax exemption on social media.
But feminine hygiene products remain out of reach for the vast majority of India's women, with millions in impoverished rural areas using rags or even sawdust, ashes and leaves instead. The lack of proper menstrual hygiene and sanitation has been linked to girls dropping out of school and lower productivity in the workplace.
According to India's National Family Health Survey, more than 40% of Indian women aged 15 to 24 do not have access to sanitary products during their period.
The figure was as high as 80% for some of India’s poorer central and eastern states.
India now joins Ireland, Kenya and Canada as one of the few countries where sanitary products are tax-free.