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A tax on tampons

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Milwida M. Guevara

Milwida M. Guevara

I am a newbie on gender sensitivity and equity. I was not even that aware there was a gender issue when my employer chose to promote a male candidate of lesser qualifications over me. I thought that it was one of those things that are decided by fate. I did not pay much attention to Prof. Monsod’s comments that the members of Congress would not have insulted me as much if I were a male.

But my awareness of gender issues has been flamed by our work in Marawi as well as the “Me Too” Movement.” It was with great interest that I read about the controversy about exempting tampons, sanitary napkins and feminine pads from the sales tax. The exemption has been granted in many states in the US as well as in many countries such as Canada, India, Australia, Colombia and Malaysia. The catchword has been “Stop taxing periods, period.” The move is justified based on “menstrual equity.” Tampons and feminine pads are considered essential items because they are part of women’s biological functions. The VAT is considered a form of discrimination against one of the basic body functions of women.

The tax on tampons is equally opposed based on horizontal inequity or uneven treatment of similar products. Apparently, Viagra is exempt from the sales tax in many jurisdictions. Ergo, why should products that are part of men’s needs be given a preferential treatment? There is also a poverty issue related to the measure. Studies note that girls from very poor communities have to skip schooling during their periods because they have no money to buy their pads. Exempting pads from the VAT would lower their price from P44.00 to P39.29.

I reckon there are strong arguments for exempting tampons and pads. It is going to be a popular measure especially among women. It promotes gender sensitivity. But the very nature of how goods have been exempt from VAT would not support the poverty and inequity issues. I may be wrong but Viagra is considered medicine which gives it an exemption cover in many jurisdictions. Medicines, with certain exceptions, are subject to VAT in the Philippines.
This has long been debated in Congress. The DOF has always explained that exempting medicine would open a floodgate for tax avoidance and evasion. Shampoo would be presented as a cure against baldness and alopecia. Juices would be packaged as a cure against scurvy. Chips and other form of snacks would come in packages that say they fight against bone loss. Toothpaste can be exempt because it prevents cavities.

As to the issue on poverty, government used how goods are processed as the litmus test on whether goods are essential or not. Goods that are not processed such as fish, vegetables, fruits, meat are exempt from the VAT. These are goods which eat up a huge proportion of the consumer’s basket of the poor.

And with respect to the tax as a tool to promote gender equity, I have always maintained that tax policies should not be overstrained. Their primary function is to help finance the needs of development. Designing them for diverse purposes weakens their efficiency.

But a debate on tampon tax in Congress, especially in the Senate would not only be interesting. It would be entertaining.

mguevara@synergeia.org.ph

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