In a controversial move, the Tanzanian government has re-introduced the tampon tax, a tax on menstrual hygiene products such as pads and tampons. The move has not been taken kindly because the products are basic necessities for women.
Women in Tanzania erupted in anger over the move which is seen as a step backwards for the country. Tanzania had previously scrapped the taxes in 2018 and re-introduced in the new budget for this year. Defending his move, Finance Minister Philip Mpango said removing the tax was counter-productive, as retailers had not lowered their prices.
Speaking to AFP, Anna Henga of the Legal and Human Rights Centre said, "Whatever the reason was given by the government, the re-introduction of this tax is an unfortunate decision with heavy consequences for most women and girls. The government should rather try and understand why the exemption did not lead to the expected results, and then correct the errors in the application of the exemption." She called for a "subsidy" of the products, or for them to be freely distributed in public health centres.
People have also questioned if 12 months was enough to tell if the tax exemption for the menstrual products had worked in reducing their prices.
"When we scrapped this tax the whole world applauded. And many countries followed suit. And now we want to take a step backwards? Are 12 months really enough to do an evaluation?" Said opposition lawmaker Zitto Kabwe, an economist, urging the government to better control the sale of female sanitary products.
However, the public, the opposition, and activists are not the only ones calling for the tax exemption status of menstrual products to remain. Even members of the ruling party, CCM, are doing the same.
"The government freely distributes condoms used by some to commit adultery. Why can't it give these pads freely to students," said lawmaker Goodluck Mlinga, adding, "the high rate of school failures by girls in rural areas is largely due to their absence during their periods."
The conversation on the taxation of menstrual products has re-ignited in the past years, with governments all over the world being put on the spot for treating the basic necessities as luxury products. The taxation of menstrual products intensified menstruation stigma and has been especially punishing to girls from low-income homes who have been recorded to miss school during their period because they cannot afford menstrual products. This phenomenon, known as period poverty, has been shown to cause girls and women to engage in risky activities to be able to pay for their pads and tampons.
For example, a report by UNFPA showed that in Kenya, schoolgirls, particularly for the younger, uneducated, economically-dependent girls, engage in transactional sex to pay for menstrual products. A report by UNESCO estimated that 1 in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa skip school when they are on their period and that 20% of girls drop out of school entirely due to period poverty.
"Menstruation is not a luxury or a choice. Tell the government and parliament we want pads without tax," Tanzanian activist Maria Sarungi Tsehai wrote on Twitter. A hashtag - #PediBilaKodi - has been created to campaign for the cause.
The only other African countries that have removed value added tax (VAT) on sanitary products are South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria.
Tanzania's new budget has been criticized for targeting women, not just with the tampon tax, but also with the new tax on wigs and hair extensions.
Header Image Credit: AZ