The decision to scrap Value Added Tax (VAT) on sanitary pads by the Government of Rwanda has been hailed as a move in the right direction – towards making sanitary products affordable especially for girls from vulnerable families.
The Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) said the Government of Rwanda added Sanitary Pads to a list of goods that are VAT exempted in a bid to ease their affordability.
The Permanent Secretary at MIGEPROF, Assumpta Ingabire said the government made the move to scrap VAT on sanitary pads in a bid to ease their affordability and improve menstrual health management for girls in vulnerable categories.
“The Government came up with the decision because we saw that there is a group of vulnerable girls and women who cannot afford sanitary pads at their current cost,”
“We are looking at different solutions to make them more accessible and affordable but we thought the first step was to remove VAT, which is 18 per cent, which we believe will push the cost lower and make them affordable for many,” Ingabire told KT Press.
Ingabire said the government is also discussing with local production companies to give them subsidies to produce sanitary pads at a much lower cost where a pack could go for as low as Rwf300. Currently, the cheapest pack of sanitary pads costs Rwf600 ($0.65) at retail shops around the country.
In terms of enforcement, PS Ingabire said that among other things, a cover price will be determined by the government which traders can alter while there will be designated places to buy them such as pharmacies to avoid manipulation of prices.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health Dr Jean Pierre Nyemazi also told KT Press that the move is part of the policy of the Rwandan Government to empower the girl child and ensure that they have access to basic needs in order for them to carry on with their education.
“We believe the decision will go a long way in ensuring that girls of school-going age have access to affordable sanitary pads. This will also minimise cases of missing classes or dropping out of school for girls because they can’t afford sanitary pads,”
“This adds to already existing initiatives such as the safe room for girls at the school where they are given free pads and space to change at any given time as well as information related to sexual reproductive health,” Dr Nyemazi said.
He said that the cost of pads has been cited as one of the reasons girls drop out of school or miss classes whenever they are in their menstrual periods, either because they fear to be laughed at or shamed.
“The safe room alone was not enough because they only access sanitary pads at school, which in a way remained a challenge but if you put them at a price everyone can afford, then we will not have cases of girls missing classes or dropping out of school,” he said.
Dr Nyemazi also emphasised that working with local producers of sanitary products will also drive the price lower and make them more affordable. He, however, said that making them free might not be happening in the near future given the cost involved in the production.
“The idea is that the cost will be lowered tremendously but in essence, there must be a contribution of the user,” he said, adding that in cases where some girls are too vulnerable to afford pads even at a low cost, the safe room should continue to come in handy.
The safe room, locally known as ‘Icyumba cy’umukobwa’ is a special room in schools where girls in their periods can go to and access free pads and other services.
It is an initiative of the Ministry of Education with support from the Ministries of Health and Local government and other partners like Imbuto Foundation, with the purpose of minimising girls’ absenteeism and address the lack of access to sanitary products for those who can’t afford them.
Chantal Umuhoza, a women rights activist said the move to scrap VAT on sanitary pads but said there are other categories of people who can’t afford them even at a subsidized cost while issues of quality are also a cause for concern.
“The Rwandan Government removing the value-added tax on menstrual health products is a step in the right direction and it’s well appreciated. However, we need to be aware that, well as this will reduce the price of menstrual products, it doesn’t guarantee affordability and accessibility especially by women and girls of low economic status,”
“There are still other costs incurred by importers and sellers that will be calculated as part of the price. Additionally, there is still work to do in terms of regulation to ensure that Rwandan women and girls can access quality products,” Umuhoza says.
Umuhoza says there has been an outcry in different parts of Africa highlighting that Africa receives the lowest quality menstrual products, an area she said the government will need to look into, adding that incentives should be given to local companies to produce affordable, high quality and environmentally friendly menstrual products and ensure free access for women and girls that aren’t able to access them.
Dr Athanase Rukundo, the Deputy Executive Director and Programs Director of Health Development Initiative (HDI-Rwanda) the decision by the Government of Rwanda to exempt sanitary pads is a big step towards ensuring that girls complete their education.
“This is a milestone towards ensuring that women and girls are able to exercise their rights, pursue education, have economic opportunities and achieve their full potentials,”
“We hope the GoR will do its best to ensure that girls’ room is fully equipped with sanitary facilities in order to eliminate all the causes and obstacles which can lead to disparity in education be it by gender,” Dr Rukundo told KT Press.
Currently, ordinary sanitary pads range between Rwf1, 000 and Rwf600 for locally produced ones. According to the World Bank, as of 2018, at least 500 million women and girls globally lacked adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management (MHM).
Of those, 250 million are in developing countries where they lack (water, sanitation and hygiene) facilities, particularly in public places, such as in schools, workplaces or health centres, which poses a major obstacle to women and girls.