It has been a painful struggle for Women MPs‚ academics‚ activists and civil society bodies to rely to governments that sanitary products are a basic need for all women and girls. Women and girls especially those of low income and living in rural areas cannot afford to safely have their period. The measures many have taken to cope are dehumanizing and cause further disenfranchisement for those who end up missing school/work or dropping out altogether because of their monthly cycle.

Research has shown that on average‚ women and girls spend at least R600 ($42) yearly on sanitary products. Steps to mitigate this high cost are finally being taken and hopefully free distribution will follow.

South Africa’s Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, announced in parliament while presenting the medium term budget, that consumers will no longer pay VAT on sanitary pads, white bread flour and cake flour with effect from April 2019.

File picture. The Deputy Minister of Communications, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams with learners from Minerva High School at the launch of Sanitary Pads Project led by Proudly South African in Partnership with Sun International and Proctor and Gamble (P&;G). 18/09/2014. (Photo: GCIS)/flickr

“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‚” he said

Mboweni said the revenue loss that will result in zero-rating these items amounts to approx. R 1.2 Billion.

“However‚ zero-rating these products targets low-income households and restores the dignity of our people.”

Read: Botswana ensures the dignity of women by offering free sanitary products

In his speech the minister affirmed the government’s commitment to female education. “The fourth element of the Presidents plan is to address urgent and pressing matters in education and health… Nobody should learn in a school that is unsafe, our children must have access to adequate sanitation… We will ensure that female learners in schools have access to sanitary pads.”

“Several provinces have already taken the lead in rolling out the provision of free sanitary pads in schools. Funds will be added to the provincial equitable share to enable provinces to progressively further this objective,” he added.