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.