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Majoro scraps VAT on sanitary towels

…move brings relief to women and girls

Pascalinah Kabi

FINANCE Minister Moeketsi Majoro has scrapped value added tax (VAT) on sanitary towels- a development that it expected to make the towels more affordable and more accessible to women and girls in the country.

Dr Majoro announced the move while presenting his proposed 2019/20 budget speech to parliament on Tuesday. The welcome move, if approved by parliament, will see the prices of sanitary towels come down by 15 percent to make sanitary towels more affordable to women and learners.

The cheapest packet of sanitary towels currently costs M8 but this could go down to about M6, 80 when the new financial year starts on 1 April.

“Government will also zero rate sanitary towels as a way to increase access and improve school attendance,” Dr Majoro said in his brief remarks on the issue.

Although the Finance Minister did not dwell at length on the issue of sanitary towels, the decision to except the commodity from VAT will go a long way in addressing the plight of young Basotho girls who often find themselves being forced to resort to extreme measures to control the blood flow whenever they experience their monthly menstrual cycles.

In June 2016, the Sunday Express’ sister Lesotho Times publication carried a story of a then 14-year-old Thaba-Tseka teenager who was forced to use sheep skins as she could not afford sanitary towels. This caused her to suffer from cuts and a rash during her monthly menstrual periods.

On other occasions, the teenager substituted newspapers for the sheepskins but this was not any more comfortable and she had to live with an odour which drew unsavory remarks from her classmates.

The youngster’s dilemma was like an extract from an ancient novel because it was hard to believe that girls still had to contend with such basic issues in the 21st century.

Again in 2017, the Sunday Express published a story of a young Leribe woman who resorted to falling pregnant as a means of ensuring that she does not have to worry about sourcing sanitary towels for nine months. By so doing, her dreams of studying nursing with the National University of Lesotho (NUL) were shattered.

“So, four months into my menstrual periods, I gave in to my boyfriend’s pressure to have sex for my own selfish reasons,” she said, adding that their sexual encounters became regular and she fell pregnant a few months later.

“But now I know better and pregnancy isn’t a solution to lack of access to sanitary pads but even today, I still don’t have pads,” she said.

The woman is a tragic example of the women and girls whose future has been destroyed to poverty and ignorance. Help Lesotho has sine stepped in to restore hope to young women by assisting at least 500 disadvantaged girls in the Leribe, Butha-Buthe and Thaba-Tseka districts.

The Leribe-based organisation, which is dedicated to promoting HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, gender equality and providing support to disadvantaged groups, decided to donate reusable sanitary towels to the girls after being made aware of their plight.

The washable towels can be used for at least six months. They are cheaper than disposable pads and environment friendly.

In countries such as South Africa, Malawi and Zambia, women still use reusable pads. Prior to the introduction of these recyclable pads, women in these countries resorted to seclusion in their rooms during menstruation or using hazardous items such as newspapers, sheepskins and cement bags.

Queen ‘Masenate Bereng Seeiso’s Hlokomela Banana Initiative also provides dignity for girls in different parts of the country through the Adopt-A-Girl SMS Campaign.

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