Sanitary napkins are not luxury items… period

Published: December 12, 2015

If men went through a similar issue, our basic hygiene products would be cheap and readily available. PHOTO: THE MALAYSIAN INSIDER

Is everyone ready?

Okay… all together now… let’s say the following words:




Sanitary napkins…

Sanitary towels…

Menstrual pad…

Maxi pad…

Whew. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Every month, before reaching a certain age, a woman ovulates for a span of a day or so. Following this time, an unfertilised egg is let go in a menstrual period that lasts up to a week or more of bleeding. It can be a very uncomfortable time for most, but is more severe for some; the pain certain women suffer is crippling.

Yet across the world, especially in certain cultures, women are discouraged from discussing the affects and requirements of this basic body function. In essence, around one half of the world’s population restraints itself for fear of making the other half feel uncomfortable.

Well, as Eric Cartman from South Park would say to the world: “What’s the big deal ****?”

As a son, brother, and husband, I realise that period shaming has to end.

An example of this is when I sometimes purchase sanitary napkins for my significant other, especially from a smaller store. Immediately, the cashier tucks away the product inside a large brown paper bag, and sometimes inside a black plastic bag as well. Given the opportunity, he would probably place it in a locked safe if he could.

Uhh… it’s just a female hygiene product.

The sanitary napkin is a comfort so vital, that women seek to use the best they can afford. This is understandable. If I bled once a month in a painful process, I’d purchase an expensive cashmere sweater for a chance at relief.

Considering this, it is difficult to understand why the Pakistani government has decided to tax the imported sanitary towel, like it is a luxury good. From what I am told, local products are inferior in quality, and don’t provide nearly the same class of ease.

According to Dawn, the sanitary towel now falls in the same bracket as watches, imitation jewellery, curtains, tents, and more. Imagine that… a sanitary napkin is now considered to be as essential as a tent by the Pakistani government. Yes… a tent.

But before you pick up your pitchforks, our nation’s government isn’t alone. States worldwide tax tampons and sanitary napkins as ‘non-essential’ and ‘luxury’ items.

Let’s call it what it is…. a vagina tax.

I bet you, if men went through a similar issue (my legs are cringing at the thought) our basic hygiene products would be cheap and readily available.

How do I know this? Well, many of the same world governments taxing female sanitary products as luxury items are taxing men’s razors as essential items. In fact, men’s hygiene products are missing from the list available on Dawn.

Instead of adding to the expense of these fundamental items, we need to make them more affordable. In a wonderful blog, Farahnaz Zahidi argues against the taboos,

“Research points out that almost 50 per cent of Pakistani girls in rural areas and underprivileged circumstances miss school during their menstrual period, and absenteeism in school can improve drastically if they have access to protective material and proper toilet facilities at school. Yet, sanitary cloth and napkins remain not a basic need but a luxury for Pakistan’s daughters who cannot afford them, or are simply unaware. The problem becomes even gorier when faced by displaced women living in slums, camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) or in nomadic setups.”

Across the border in India, Arunachalam Muruganantham almost lost his family and financial security before he finally created a revolutionary machine that produces cheap sanitary pads. Muruganantham was inspired to do so after realising his wife was using “nasty cloths”, because she could either buy milk or the products she needed – not both.

After more research, Muruganantham began to understand the scope of the problem,

“When Muruganantham looked into it further, he discovered that hardly any women in the surrounding villages used sanitary pads – fewer than one in 10. His findings were echoed by a 2011 survey by AC Nielsen, commissioned by the Indian government, which found that only 12 per cent of women across India use sanitary pads.

Muruganantham says that in rural areas, the take-up is far less than that. He was shocked to learn that women don’t just use old rags, but other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash.

Women who do use cloths are often too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, which means they don’t get disinfected. Approximately 70 per cent of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene – it can also affect maternal mortality.”

I cannot imagine the situation being any better in Pakistan.

Let’s end the double standards. Let’s stop penalising women for their reproductive organs.

Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • vivek

    I see what you did there in the title :-)Recommend

  • Rishabh Jain

    Brilliant. And gutsy. once again. You have held the mirror.Recommend

  • Arsha

    As a woman, I really appreciate your empathy. I fail to understand why menstruation is such a shameful and taboo topic. It is the most basic body function and same across the globe. We humans have created such nonsensical barriers and prejudices in the world …. It’s baffling to a logical mind.Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Hmmm for a change …a nice blog … commendable thoughts …Recommend

  • Rd px

    Its called a luxury item because its not used by the common man. Ofcourse its more convenient. If the tax was exorbitant u wouldn’t be buying it. Pakistan has one of the lowest tax to GDP in the region.Recommend

  • UzairH

    Bravo Noman for stating our immature and childish attitudes to normal human biology. Yes, all women who haven’t hit menopause have periods, it is a normal part of life and not something to be ashamed of.

    And as you rightly point out, it is ludicrous that these essential items are considered a luxury item in our country.Recommend

  • Farahnaz Zahidi

    Thank You Noman….refreshing that this is coming from a man. Important stuff!Recommend

  • Kasturi K

    I support you 100% in your efforts. You are a brave person to talk about a taboo and it was nice to have at least one male vote on our side. Women are humans and an essential part of keeping your family and the world going. They deserve as much comfort as men deserve to discharge their duties in comfortable and efficient manner. Don’t tax their essential items as luxuries.Recommend

  • sanjita

    Maybe you don’t know that a lot of people in the West are pushing for sustainable environmental solutions to humankind’s abuse of nature. Part of this is understanding and accepting bodily functions. For centuries, women have used cloth pads for personal hygiene and there is no need to cut down more trees, use more resources and create garbage for a very natural function. The same holds true for diapers. Many of us in the environmental movement consider both diapers and sanitary napkins are unnecessary luxury products which people are people fooled into using. Just promote proper hygiene in cleaning cloth diapers and sanitary napkins. It’s ironic that while awareness is being made and there is a push for natural ways to deal with bodily functions in the West, developing countries are making the same mistakes of considering diapers or sanitary napkins as essential basic products. Governments all over the world need to tax such items heavily that will wind up in garbage heaps and land fills the world does not need. This will limit its use and help save the world.Recommend

  • Muhammad Umer Taj

    Amazingly put and informative for creating an angle of thought for the masses

  • dr mahnoor bugti

    seriously appreciate your article..Recommend

  • mariam

    god job. for spreading awareness about this topic especially as a maleRecommend

  • Palaupakistani

    Uhm..dudee u knw hw much a gillete blade replacement costs me..friggin 1500 rupees…Recommend

  • yolo

    Great article – thanks for saying what needed desperately to be said.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I tend to agree with you on the diaper. We brought our children up on home made cotton diapers and they NEVER got nappy rash ( disposable diapers were just not readily available )…….but on the sanitary napkin it somehow does not make sense.Recommend

  • Parvez

    You keep getting better and better…….but lighten up a bit as well.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari
  • AZ

    The point is something that is essential for feminine hygiene is considered a luxury. There are companies that sell sanitary napkins made from cloth that can be re-used, if they become widely used do you think they’d lower taxes? Probably not because it would still be considered a luxury item which it most certainly isn’t. That is the issue, not the material of the product but the classification of that product. Morever men’s disposable hygiene items aren’t given the same tax treatment so obviously there’s a bias.Recommend

  • Parvez

    The Dawn site is good…….but ET’s is way better.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    I just meant I keep my light side on Dawn and dark side on ET haha.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Good one mate ;)Recommend

  • citizen

    thanks for speaking up . AppreciatedRecommend

  • Shabista Hassan

    what a wonderful reading!…the fact is, i enjoyed it more because a very important and everyday women’s problem is discussed by a man here…bravo bro….thank you for at least understanding….men cannot even imagine what we go through and the attitude of making it shameful to even discuss distressing…i think our men should be educated on this very important part of a woman’s life as it could prevent a lot fights and problems….i dont understand that if i can i tell my spouse or family of having a diarrhea or urine infection why cant i discuss the cramps i get in periods….it caters the same area….anyway.. our government’s aim is to make the life of a common man difficult everyday so what new in it…. its sanitary napkin today tomorrow wait for oxygen being taxed…….we need to rethink before putting these uneducated brats in the assemblies….Recommend

  • Hope

    Clap Clap clap .wow . Thank you Noman . spot onRecommend

  • Mohsin Akhtar

    No, you are all wrong. By your name you seem to be a girl, considering this, I should say in short that you do not heed on using a hygienic product (without going into details in the above blog or even what you have commented). This is a basic need attached to a girl/woman by the nature, so what a fuss?. This is an ultimate necessity of life and not a luxury item, just think if you went to a public place without one on while you are running in that particular situation. That’s all. The argument is long and can be discussed in detail considering all aspects of life, society, IDPs, school girls (particularly poor ones), etc. I don’t want to do so at this moment, however.Recommend