Free sanitary pads; remedy for adolescent drop-out – campaigners

When the Malawi government removed import duty and excise tax on sanitary pads in February 2022, menstrual hygiene campaigners celebrated.

Gwengwe: As government we are committed.

The scrapping of this levy was considered one remedy for supporting general feminine hygiene.

Said Sosten Gwengwe, Minister of finance on February 18, 2022: “In the spirit of promoting girl child education, Government has listened to contributions that came from various stakeholders and has consequently removed duty and excise tax on sanitary pads”.

However, a year down the line, a move that was meant to make a difference for the less privileged girl has made zero difference.

Disposable sanitary pads have remained un-accessible and highly-priced for the low earning bracket in rural areas; costing an average of $1.47 loosely MK1, 500.00.

And this; hasn’t either helped the girl-child in managing menstruation many of whom have continued to drop out of school.

However, Patuma Kachingwe a form four student at Ngwindima Community Day Secondary School in Balaka district says poor menstrual hygiene often affects both their health and school undertakings.

Being asked to table such matters.

“One of the implications has been urinary infections so much so that it affects our health that we have to skip classes,” says Kachingwe.

She adds: “we in rural areas did not experience any impact of the removal of the import duty and excise tax on sanitary pads”.

Echoing Kachingwe, Gloria Walusa – a menstrual hygiene campaigner says despite Government removing the duty and excise tax on sanitary pads sadly nothing changed on the ground.

“As a matter of fact; the sooner the removal of that excise tax the sooner their prices went up. Inflation and devaluation didn’t help matters,” says Walusa – country director for Pride Initiative, a menstrual hygiene lobby group.

Alternatively, she adds: “moving forward, the best government must consider is setting a special fund for renewable sanitary kids. This fund should be used to support school-going girls to safeguard their stay in school”.

An important resource.

Like Walusa; Yvonne Kamanga, executor director for Fund a Girl-Child Initiative, another menstrual hygiene advocacy organization calls for a policy shift in reproductive health issues to increase access to reproductive health rights services.

“One way will be the distribution of reusable sanitary kits which will also support managing menstruation during emergencies in schools which is usually difficult for most adolescent girls, which, in some cases, push them out of school,” observes Kamanga.

Overall, there’s a feeling that menstrual hygiene protection remains inadequate.

Lydia Malunga, a retired public sector teacher feels most girls in rural areas, at least over 90% of them are known to use reusable menstrual clothes as they can’t afford to regularly buy disposable pads.

“The removal of tax on import duty and excise tax on sanitary pads only worked for business persons because the market-audience remained the same. You can’t find them in local shops and where they’re found their prices have remained unaffordable for the poor.

“Instead; I would recommend that government invests towards the distribution of free-of-charge reusable sanitary kits to ensure that girls attain education and eventually reap a generation that has moved out of poverty”.

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