Liberia: ‘Reduce Taxes on Sanitary Products’

The Community Healthcare Initiative (CHI) has asked the Liberian government to reduce taxes on sanitary products as a means of ensuring easy access to hundreds of women and girls who need it daily. 

The appeal, penned by CHI’s founder, Naomi Tulay-Solanke and a group of other women, come as the country continues to face difficulty in its fight to make sanitary pads more accessible and affordable as part of a mission to end period poverty.

With almost half of the country's population living  in rural areas of the country, most women and girls have little to no access to sanitary pads and those who do are considered to be in a privileged position. 

A lack of sanitary pads is a major cause of skipped lessons and an eventual drop out from schools, and the societal stigma around menstrual products often causes mental and emotional upset.

And widely, those that cannot afford pads result in using  strips of old clothing or towels throughout the day — leading to some health complications and infections, and long-term health risks.

This lack of access to period products, or the inability to purchase them, is known as period poverty.

“There’s a need for the Legislature to work along with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to reduce all taxes on sanitary products.  Many women and girls are struggling to afford sanitary pads and it causes them health risk due to using unhygienic problems,” Mrs. Tulay-Solanke said.

“Thousands of Liberian women and girls cannot afford to buy sanitary products because they are too expensive and women and girls have to choose between purchasing pads and other essential basic needs,” the activist said.  “Removing taxes on sanitary products will reduce the cost of pads and empower women and girls to afford pads, and hence live healthier lives.”

Mrs. Tulay-Solanke said access to sanitary pads remains a huge challenge, and that four years ago, they petitioned the Ministry of Education but yet nothing is being done about it.

Bong County District #6 Representative, Moima Briggs-Mensah, has promised to work with her legislative colleagues to ensure the reduction of taxes on sanitary products and the careful review of the Penal Code.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Tulay-Solanke has called on the government to begin the active teaching of Comprehensive Sex Education in schools, women, girls, and boys will have valuable information about the Sexual reproductive health and rights, which may lead to girls’ retention and performance in school, reduction in teenage pregnancy, and sexual harassment.

Sheikh Idrissa Swaray, head of Muslim Aid Liberia, said the religious community has more work to ensure that the women, girls and boys are educated on sexual reproductive rights. 

Sheikh Swaray said things that existed or were observed 1,400 years ago during the days of Prophet Mohammed do not work now and there’s a need to carry out more engagement with communities.

According to him, as an imam, he has been condemned by some other imams for engaging into advocacy and educating society about sexual and reproductive rights.

Rev. Canon Michael T. Sie, Executive Director of Inter-Faith Based Leaders Against Violence, said though the initiative is welcoming, it requires more education on how parents and religious community can educate their congregations and girls about sexual and reproductive rights.

“We are looked at differently for talking about sexual reproduction and rights to congregation. We should be able to talk to our members on important issues like such. Our customs, religious backgrounds and traditions are holding us back,” Rev. Sie said.

Margibi County District #3 Representative, Ellen Attoh Wreh, pledged her support and promised to work with colleagues to ensure the allocation of funds to reduce taxes on sanitary pads and the revision of the Penal Law 15.3. “Are we abiding to the Penal Code that speaks to processes to abortion or are we looking for law? What we want and will be able to work for should be our focus and we should all work to achieve it,” Rep. Wreh said.   

Accordingly, Rep. Wreh said Liberia does not have a system in place to track certain things. Therefore, care must be taken by stakeholders. She added that the recent passage of the law mandating mothers to breastfeed babies for six months was condemned by many, claiming that it’s their bodies.