By David Aidoo
On average, women and young girls will have 450 menstruations over their lifetime, which equals 3,500 days spent menstruating and requiring over 10,000 menstrual products in one’s lifetime.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet women and young girls, through no fault of theirs will have to commit resources during their lifetime to manage menstruation, particularly menstrual products.
The cost associated with menstrual products keeps increasing by the day as the world goes through economic challenges.
It is estimated that every woman/adolescent girl who menstruates 450 times in their lifetime; spent an average of USD$20 on menstrual products per cycle, which totals USD$9,000 over their lifetime. Governments over the world are working to reduce this burden on women by letting go of taxes on menstrual products, yet Ghana, a country that has a population of more women than men continues to TAX menstrual products. How can Ghana work to affirm its commitments to affirmative action and consolidate its efforts to provide equal human rights to all Ghanaians?
MENSTRUATION AND MENSTRUAL HYGIENE MATERIALS (PRODUCTS)
Menstruation is the regular discharge of blood and mucosal tissue from the inner lining of the uterus through the vagina. The menstrual cycle is characterized by the rise and fall of hormones. Menstruation is triggered by falling progesterone levels and is a sign that pregnancy has not occurred. The first menstruation usually begins between the ages of 12 and 15. The typical length of time between the first day of one’s menstruation and the first day of the next is 21 to 45 days in young women. In adults, the range is between 21 and 31 days with the average being 28 days. Bleeding usually lasts around 2 to 7 days. Menstruation ceases after menopause, which usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age.
Menstrual health (MH) is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being in relation to a menstrual cycle. While there is no specific goal or indicator on Menstrual Health in any of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), it has been argued that menstruation matters to the achievement of the SDGs, and that menstruation is directly linked to a number of SDGS including but not limited to Goal 3; Goal 4; Goal 5; Goal 6; Goal 8; and Goal 12. During the 50th session of the Human Rights Council panel discussion on menstrual hygiene management, human rights and gender equality, it was stated that though MH is not explicitly stated in the SDG targets, it has been placed on the global health, education, human rights, and gender equality/equity agendas by grass-roots workers and activists from the global South, drawing attention to reports of women’s and girls’ experiences of shame and embarrassment, and the barriers they face in managing their period because they do not have the means to do so, with consequences for their life opportunities including their rights to education, work, water and sanitation, non-discrimination and gender equality – and ultimately to health. The World Health Organization (WHO) salutes the grass-roots workers and activists, notably those from the global South, who have doggedly championed menstrual health and welcomes the inclusion of Menstrual Health in the Human Rights Council agenda. WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitory Programme (JMP) has expanded its database to incorporate harmonized menstrual health indicators, including a new tab in the JMP Country Files, and the 2021 JMP progress update included a dedicated section on menstrual health.
Menstrual hygiene materials are materials used to catch menstrual flow, such as cloths, reusable and disposable pads, menstrual cups and tampons. Menstrual supplies are other supportive items for menstrual hygiene and health more broadly, such as soap, underwear and pain relief. A wide range of menstrual hygiene materials, under many different product names, are available around the world including Ghana. Many products are promoted by their manufacturers based on claims of appropriateness, culturally acceptability, cost effectiveness or reduced environmental impact. From the 2021 WHO JPM 2021 Menstrual health data, ninety eight percent (98%) of women and girls in the Ghana use menstrual materials, thirteen percent (13%) use reusable menstrual materials and eighty five percent (85%) use single-use menstrual materials. At the rural level, the same ninety-eight percent (98%) of women and girls use menstrual materials, whilst eighteen percent (18%) and eighty percent (80%) use reusable menstrual materials and single-use menstrual materials respectively.
GHANA’S TAX SYSTEM AND TAX ON MENSTRUAL PRODUCTS
A tax is a compulsory financial charge, or some other type of levy imposed on a taxpayer (an individual or legal entity) by a governmental organization in order to fund government spending and various public expenditures. Ghana is a unitary state, and as such the Government of Ghana sets tax policy and collects tax revenues for the whole of the country. The government receives revenues from a wide variety of sources, but these can be broadly split into two categories: tax revenues and non-tax revenues. Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) by Act 791 has been mandated to perform a number of functions which include “assess and collect taxes, interest and penalties on taxes due to the Republic with optimum efficiency”, and this function puts them in charge of tax revenue collection on behalf of the government. GRA distinguishes between three main groups of taxes: taxes on income and profits (direct taxes); taxes on goods and services (indirect taxes); and taxes on international trade (customs taxes). Institute of Fiscal Studies and Ghana’s Ministry of Finance in a 2021 publication (A survey of the Ghanaian tax system) provided an analysis of tax revenue for the country from 2000 to 2019. Between 2000 and 2019, revenues from direct taxation grew from 2.5% of GDP to over 6% of GDP. Indirect tax revenue excluding import duties saw a more modest growth, increasing from just under 4% of GDP to just over 5%. Import duty revenues have been relatively stable for the past two decades, inching up from 1.5% of GDP in 2000 to just over 2% between 2016 and 2018. With commodity imports as a share of GDP changing little over time.
Menstrual products are either produced or are imported into the country. In reference to Excise Duty Act, 2014 (ACT 878) as amended by Excise Duty (Amendment) (No.2) ACT, 2015 (ACT 903) section 1, Excise duty is payable where the goods are (a) manufactured in the country; or (b) imported into the country. Section 2 of the act talks about exempt goods and nothing contained under the section refers to menstrual products as being exempted from excise duty, whether being imported or being manufactured in the country. First Schedule of the act, which specifies rates at which goods should be taxed refers to pharmaceutical good being subject to an excise duty at zero per centum, but excludes menstrual products. Ghana operates a five-band tax rates for goods imported into the country in line with ECOWAS Common External Tariffs. Menstrual products fall under band 4 [finished goods (final consumer goods)], and that is subject to a tax rate of twenty percent. Import of goods into the country, and export of goods are subject to Value Added Tax (VAT) in line with Value Added Tax Act, 2013 (Act 870) and Value Added Tax Regulations, 2016 (L.I.2243). Menstrual products, which is not exempt from excise duty is further subjected to VAT in line with Act 870, at current rate of seventeen percent.
Whilst Ghana continues to tax menstrual products, more than twenty six countries in the world apply zero rate on menstrual products, and sixteen countries apply a reduce rate on menstrual products. A publication by UKAid and Work and Opportunities for Women (WOW_ in May 2020 dubbed Taxes and duties for sanitary products in Africa stated among other things that seven African countries have some tax reliefs on menstrual products. Of the seven countries, it is only two (Nigeria and Mauritania) that comes from the West Africa. Nigeria grants tax reliefs on locally manufactured menstrual products, whilst Mauritania has tax reliefs on sanitary wear.
A call to action
The Vice President of the republic, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia in 2020 gave an assurance that his government would remove import duties on sanitary pads if its mandate was renewed for the next four years. However, this is yet to materialize. A webinar organized by WASH United in partnership with other like-minded organizations on “Collective actions to end period taxes in Ghana” established four key reasons to remove period tax, which are: menstrual products are basic necessities; taxes on menstrual products are gender discriminatory; removal of the taxes will make menstrual products accessible and affordable for all; and will also tackle the stigma on menstruation. While it has been established on how important taxes are to the development of the country, Dr. Laura Rossouw and Dr. Hana Ross in their publication “An Economic Assessment of Menstrual Hygiene Product Tax Cuts” established strong justification on the need for governments across the globe, especially in Africa to consider the removal of PERIOD TAX. The time is now for Ghana to make a bold decision to remove completely all taxes on menstrual products (sanitary wear). This, will go a long way in promoting gender equality, and making our women feel proud to be a Ghanaian. The complete removal will also make Ghana, the second country in West Africa after Mauritania to have chalked this milestone.
The writer is the Funding Manager at WaterAid