Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) president McHenry Venaani is pleased with the recent budget announcement that sanitary products will be value-added tax (VAT) zero-rated from the 2022/23 financial year onwards.
Since 2016, Venaani has been staunchly advocating for affordable and more accessible sanitary products for schoolgirls. This was, however, not well received by some female MPs at the time.
“It is a step in the right direction but we must put caveat on the accessibility of youth girls and women to access the products. What’s important is to accelerate accessibility. We must address in broad terms the accessibility,” he told New Era on enquiry recently.
Finance minister Iipumbu Shiimi last Wednesday announced that the supply of sanitary products will be VAT zero-rated to enhance affordability by the girl child and urged suppliers and retailers to pass on this relief to consumers once enacted.
These tax policy measures will take effect in the 2022/23 financial year. However, freight tax is already provided for in the tax code and it will be fully enforced forthwith.
Venaani added that generally, as a legislature, they are five to six years late to implement these decisions and it needs to be accelerated.
“What I am not happy with is we are going to implement this next year as opposed to now,” he noted.
Deputy ICT minister Emma Theofelus also welcomed the finance minister’s announcement to scrap VAT on sanitary products in efforts to enhance affordability.
“Now more than ever, stakeholders in government, civil society and pressure groups need to collaborate to see how we can realise free sanitary pads sooner than later,” Theofelus told New Era on enquiry last week.
Asked about fears that the directive does not address accessibility, Theofelus said the availability will eventually improve, depending on whoever the distributer is.
“My view is that accessibility of these sanitary pads will improve whether personally acquired by women and girls or done so by third parties to assist women and girls. That’s the progress I would rather see and appreciate and I am under the impression that women and girls from all socio-economic backgrounds feel the same,” she commented.
For years, Namibians, in their personal capacity and organisations such as the Women’s Action for Development (WAD), have advocated for the free distribution of sanitary pads, saying it is unfair that condoms are free and sanitary pads are paid for in Namibia, because intercourse is a choice but menstrual cycles are biological.
WAD assistant project manager Shanice Britz recently said the number of women and girls facing period poverty may have risen significantly during the Covid-19, especially because many people have lost their jobs and income.
“Some schools were receiving donations of pads from companies and good Samaritans but with the lockdown, a lot of businesses have incurred losses and many are unable to donate pads anymore, which exacerbated the situation for women and young girls, especially in rural areas,” she stated.
Education ministry deputy executive director Edda Bohn also recently said schools in the country should invest in dignity projects.
“Every school is obliged to start a dignity project and invest a certain amount specified per child into this project, where they create a revolving fund of some sort in terms of buying stock for the girl-child – and for the boy-child to get soap and deodorant, and reinstate the dignity of both,” Bohn re-iterated.
Many African countries have already made sanitary products free or affordable.
In addition to lowering tax on sanitary pads and tampons back in 2004, the Kenyan government is also distributing free sanitary towels to teenage girls in school since 2011.
Botswana also passed a motion in 2017 to provide sanitary products to schoolgirls in both state and private schools, while Zambia, in the same year, unveiled a programme to provide free sanitary pads for girls in rural and peri-urban areas. South Africa did so in October 2018, when its minister of finance announced the provision of free sanitary products to schoolgirls in non-fee paying schools.