The collective voice of various civil society organisations and NPOs resulted in a welcome announcement during the 2018 medium-term budget speech that Value-Added Tax on sanitary pads has been abolished. From 1 April 2019, the South African public will now save when purchasing sanitary products – welcome relief to many cash-strapped households.
Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni’s, policy statement, tabled in parliament, read: “Earlier this year ‚ a panel of experts was commissioned to investigate mitigating the effect of the VAT rate increase on low-income households. The panel suggested that six items be considered for zero-rating‚ while pointing out that targeted expenditure would be more effective in helping low-income households. In response‚ government proposes to zero-rate white bread flour‚ cake flour and sanitary pads from April 2019.”
Government was under increased pressure to zero-rate sanitary wear after the one percent VAT increase hit South African pockets hard in April this year.
Sue Barnes, founder of Subz Pants and Pads and its NPO extension, Project Dignity, welcomed this announcement: “This is a huge victory for South African women and, in particular, the schoolgoers from disadvantaged communities. The increased cost effectiveness of sanitary pads – which is really a biological necessity for menstruating women – will make them more accessible to women in families who are struggling to make ends meet.”
Barnes established the reusable sanitary product, Subz Pants and Pads, in 2010 when she learnt about the dire affect inaccessibility to sanitary wear was having on education for young women. The product consists of washable pads – which will benefit from the VAT cut – which clip onto an accompanying panty that can be reused for up to five years. The panty is made from 100% cotton, and the pads are made from five layers of specialised, absorption-tested fabric. Between 1 000 and 3 000 packs are manufactured in Durban monthly, the majority of which are donated to schoolchildren.
“Thousands of South African schoolchildren are missing out on valuable classroom time, sometimes up to one week per month, as they cannot afford sanitary pads,” explained Barnes. “Yesterday’s announcement will go a long way in restoring dignity to these youngsters, and improving their chance of educational success.”
While government has initiated the donation of sanitary products to many schools across South Africa in a further effort to address this problem, they have yet to look at more economically and environmentally-friendly products, such as Subz Pants and Pads.
Despite this, Project Dignity continues to distribute thousands of packs of reusable sanitary wear to schools and NPOs every month, relying on corporate and individual sponsorship to meet the growing need of young women countrywide. To date, approximately 140 000 packs have been distributed since Project Dignity’s inception in 2014. Every school activation is accompanied by an educational talk on puberty and women’s health, with the youngsters encouraged to engage on topics in a safe environment.
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