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July 2018

Menstrual hygiene products: a basic human right

Written by Nathalie Leblond
Technology and Trends

On the 1st April this year VAT in South Africa went up from 14% to 15%. Like most people, I made all the right horrified noises, but secretly I thought to myself, “What difference is 1% really going to make?”

I also made the mistake of saying this out loud to my husband, and immediately got a long and complicated mathematical explanation on how VAT has actually increased by 1 percentage point from 14% to 15%‚ which is an increase of 7.1% in the vat rate, and that the impact is an increase of 0.877% on what you pay which meant that blah blah blah until my eyes glazed over and I wished I had never mentioned it.

It’s been 3 months now since the increase, and - like most consumers - I’m feeling that percentage point (or vat rate, or whatever!)  And not just at Woolworths where all the clothes prices are now strange amounts like R403.00 instead of R399! It’s noticeable everywhere. And if it’s noticeable for me on my comfortable monthly salary, I have to wonder how the more vulnerable in our society are coping.

Of course, we do have a number of basic foodstuffs which are zero rated for VAT in this country;  19 in fact, according to the National Treasury, including brown bread, maize meal, samp, milk powder, rice, vegetables, fruit, and eggs.

But what about other basic necessities like soap, or sanitary pads? No mention of any of these on the treasury list. And I say necessities because these two items in particular are essential for basic hygiene and human dignity.

Just before the VAT increase Treasury did say that it would “set up a panel of experts to consider and review the country’s current list of items that have been zero-rated for VAT.”  Some of the additional items proposed include: poultry, flour, candles, soap, basic medicines, pay-as-you-go airtime,  and education-related goods.

We are making progress if soap and basic medicines are now up for review, but still no mention of feminine hygiene products; something that every woman over the age of 13 and under the age of 50 in this country needs on a monthly basis.

One has to wonder at the logic that dictates condoms be distributed freely across the country, but a solid 15% tax is added to already expensive menstrual hygiene products like  tampons and sanitary pads. As someone once pointed out to me, “Sex is a choice, menstruation isn’t”.  And the net result is that many women and girls in South Africa can’t afford sanitary products; access to which should, in fact, be a basic human right.

In my previous blog: Initial celebrates Menstrual Hygiene Day I mentioned some that some reports estimate that up to 10% of South African schoolgirls miss a week of school every month during their menstrual cycle because they do not have access to expensive sanitary products.  That equates to about 20% of the school year, and undoubtedly causes them to miss out on future opportunities.

The alternatives are also grim; some girls use rags, newspaper and even leaves to manage their menstrual blood, and the use of these alternatives is linked to a 70% higher risk of urinary tract infections, vaginal infections, and skin rashes.

This is why Initial has launched  the Hygiene Angels: Keeping girls in School project. We are committed to raising awareness around menstrual hygiene, and the difficulties that young women in South Africa face.  The project kicks off on Mandela Day, when Initial colleagues across the country will visit schools in their communities to deliver an educational talk on menstrual hygiene and donate sanitary pads for the schools’ learners.  Initial will also provide and service sanitary bins (at no cost) to all the schools in the project, as well as posters on basic menstrual hygiene practices for school bathrooms. The project will continue after Mandela day, with regular monthly donations of free sanitary pads to our partner schools. Visit our project page to see more about what Initial is doing to keep girls in school.

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Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie Leblond

Nathalie is the Category Manager at Rentokil Initial, and has worked in the hygiene and pest control industry for 12 years. Although after 12 years cockroaches still have the power to terrify her, she has learnt countless ways to defeat germs both in the workplace and at home. She is a passionate advocate for Global Handwash Day and the health benefits that can be derived from regular handwashing and hygiene practices. When not contributing to the Initial blog, Nathalie is writing press releases for sister businesses, Rentokil and Ambius. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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