Making menstrual hygiene supplies, including sanitary pads, more affordable, available, and accessible, is one of the critical and complicated legislation about to be reviewed by the 54th Legislature.
In Liberia, access to affordable menstruation products is a privilege. According to reports, poverty forces half of the adolescent girls and women across the country to use unhygienic old rags to manage their menstruation.
This comes with illnesses, school absenteeism, and pungent social injustice. But this might soon be minimized as the House of Representatives has been petitioned by the Community Healthcare Initiative (CHI) to make menstrual health and hygiene a priority by suspending all taxes and import duties on sanitary pads.
The cost of a pad in Liberia is L$300 or US$2.
Nusone Perkins, CHI head of communication and mobilization while reading the petition argued that the high cost of sanitary pads means thousands of Liberian women and girls do not have access to the product which is necessary for their wellbeing.
Ms. Perkins added that as a result, they are forced to use old clothes, socks, rags, and tissue, which leads to health complications. According to her, the lack of access to sanitary products and services has contributed to girls' underperformance in school, teenage pregnancy, early child marriages, and school dropouts.
“Menstruation is a normal biological process; therefore, women and girls should not be denied access to hygienic products,” Ms. Perkin added. We are here to ask our lawmakers to publicly stand with the women and girls of Liberia, to tackle period poverty by removing taxes and import duties on sanitary pads, which will make the product more affordable and accessible for women and girls, especially those who cannot afford it."
“We ask the Government, through the Legislature, to amend the Revenue Code, removing all taxes applicable to the importation and sale of sanitary pads in Liberia. We ask the Legislature to consider allocating funds toward Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) in the next annual budget."
“We ask the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and the Liberia Revenue Authority to commit to working with the legislature to implement the amended tax policy, regulate and monitor the price of sanitary pads on the market,” the petition added.
A recent UNESCO study on sub-Saharan Africa showed that 1 in 10 girls misses school during their menstrual cycle, and the missed days are equivalent to 20% of a school year.
The groups further called on the Ministry of Education to prioritize, invest in, and accelerate efforts to ensure the teaching of Comprehensive Sexuality Education in schools and ensure that all schools — public and private — have sanitary pads available in their bathrooms.
Meanwhile, Nimba County District #4 Representative, Gunpue L. Kargon, who is also Chairman of the House Committee on Claims and Petitions, received the petition along with his colleagues. He said they will lobby to ensure the amendment of the tax policy on sanitary pads.
“This petition looks interesting and I am more interested because I know some of my sisters and other women in classrooms and market grounds are being disgraced,” Rep. Kargon said. "I believe that the initiative is in the interest of the women of Liberia and looks forward to receiving the necessary attention from his colleagues."
Bong County District #6 Representative, Moima Briggs-Mensah said women’s matters are usually taken seriously by some of their colleagues but hope this petition will be taken seriously.
“I am a sister and a mother and if you are a man, anything concerning women must concern you too. We, as females, will work with our ‘he for she’ colleagues to work and ensure that our girls have free sanitary pads,” Rep.Briggs-Mensah said.
There are reports that the petition is expected on the House’s agenda next week. A lawmaker, who asked not to be named, said “they will push” for at least a 20% reduction in the taxes on sanitary pads, considering the downward trend of the economy.
The lawmaker said South Africa removed its 15% value-added tax from sanitary products, such as pads and tampons, in a move that was praised by advocates as a win in the fight against “period poverty.”
Meanwhile, the Executive Director of CHI, Naomi Tulay-Solanke noted that they are not asking for much, but rather for the lawmakers to agree to repeal the tax law and policy, where applicable, to remove taxes on sanitary pads and shift sanitary products from non-medical to medical.
“We are also calling on the First Lady of Liberia to join our voices in advocating for removing taxes on sanitary pads. With the First Lady joining us in this fight, collectively, we are a step closer to solving period poverty in Liberia,” she said.
“We are also [telling] the public that Women and girls do not bleed only on International Menstrual Hygiene Day, May 28th. Women and girls bleed every month. Therefore, our individual or collective campaign must go beyond May 28th. After May 28, what happens? Women and girls continue to bleed,” Ms. Tulay-Solanke added.
CHI is a feminist-led organization established in 2014 that is working to strengthen and promote healthcare, and social services to underserved women and children, focusing on adolescent girls.
CHI has established Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) clubs in 5 of the 15 counties, focusing on menstrual hygiene management. The May 31 petition of the House was led by several top civil society organizations including CHI, and Paramount Young Women Initiative (PAYOWI).