Yesterday, newly appointed minister of finance, Tito Mboweni, delivered his mid-term budget speech to Parliament. Among the plans he laid out, he announced that three items would receive a zero-VAT rate as from 1 April 2019. They are bread, flour and sanitary towels. In addition, sanitary pads will be distributed freely in schools. Here’s why this is a big deal.
Tampon tax, for the average person with a uterus, has an average lifetime cost of between R16 500 and R19 800 in South Africa, according to writer and activist Jen Thorpe. Campaigns such as #TamponTaxMustFall, and organisations like Femme Projects and Sheba Feminine have been calling for the end of tampon tax, as it’s an unfair tax enforced on people born with a uterus – effectively.
Okay, but what does this mean for the price of pads?
If you’re buying at the cheaper end of the market, instead of paying around R13 for a pack of 12 pads, you will pay around R11. The difference is R2 for a 12-pack. This may not sound like a lot, but it makes a big difference over the course of a lifetime.
If you’re buying a more expensive pack of 16 maxi pads for R30, you would pay R25.50 instead.
Ideally, pads and tampons should be free, as dropping the tax may not necessarily make pads affordable for those with very little income, who are currently not buying pads at all and opting for alternatives such as rags. While tax on having a uterus has been dropped, the cost of having one remains. This is a step in the right direction, not the end of the road.
Many South African girls from low-income households miss up to a quarter of their schooling year because of the price of hygiene products. This is why Tito Mboweni’s announcement of the free provision of pads for schoolgirls is a huge win towards the fight for the right to dignity for women in marginalised communities.
The reactions to the announcement have been phenomenal.
My mood when I heard , sanitary pads will be VAT free!❤ pic.twitter.com/L4SsLkyYp3
— Siv Ngesi (@iamSivN) October 24, 2018
Ricky van Huyssteen, spokesperson for #TeamFreeSanitaryPads had already prepared a press statement:
— Ricky ✌🏻🇿🇦 (@ricky_vh1) October 24, 2018
Shout out to all of us who’ve been consistent in demanding free sanitary towels for young women and girls and that they be vat free. This victory is sweet and encouraging😭✊Advocacy iyaphumelela… Umzabalazo uyaphumelela. #ThisIsMyVagina
— Babes Womzabalazo (@NalediChirwa) October 24, 2018
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, in his mid term today has announced no tax on sanitary towels AND they will be free in schools! A period cycle is a natural and biological experience unique to women is something that should always be accomodated in society – this is great news!
— PWF (@Phenomenal_wf) October 24, 2018
As a woman&on behalf of all women-Thanks for Thinking of Young Girls, Mostly Black-who just can’t afford Sanitary Towels🎀Government should roll out Quality Menstrual Cups
— Black Diamond (@BlackDi36964418) October 24, 2018
This win is an important one, because it is deeply linked to issues of class, poverty and women’s education. We don’t yet know which schools would receive the free sanitary towels, or what the criteria would be to determine who should receive this and who should not. But we are grateful that our voices have been heard, and that we’re one step closer to #DignityForAll. This announcement addresses an injustice specific to South African women who have not been afforded the access or resources to cover a basic necessity.
Related: Here’s a short history of how women have been dealing with their periods since 1900 up until the current tampon tax debate.