VAT exemption for local sanitary napkin production a big win, gender experts say
A sum of Tk4,191 crore has been proposed for the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs for the 2021-22 fiscal year, an 8.6% increase on the Tk3,860 crore allocation in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
In addition to the increased allocation for the ministry, gender and hygiene experts have hailed VAT exemptions to promote the local production of sanitary napkins as a big win for women.
In his budget speech for FY2021-22 in parliament on Thursday, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said: “I propose a VAT exemption at the local manufacturing stage on the production of sanitary napkins to protect the health of women.
“I also propose a two-year extension to the VAT exemption on the import of certain raw materials used for the production of sanitary napkins and diapers,” he added.
To promote employment of members of the third gender community, the finance minister proposed tax rebates for organizations that employed at least 10% of their workforce or more than 100 employees from the third gender.
Hasin Jahan, country director of WaterAid Bangladesh, told Dhaka Tribune that women’s menstrual health had suffered due to the pandemic-induced poverty in Bangladesh.
“Many women and girls have been forced to go back to unhygienic clothes from sanitary napkins because buying menstrual health products has become a financial burden for them. If the government decides to exempt locally produced sanitary pads from VAT, it is indeed commendable,” she said.
She also said the pandemic had brought the importance of handwashing to the forefront, pointing out that access to water for women in public places was crucial.
“The government needs to see this [hand washing] issue through the gender lens. Women need safe running water when they are in public places for hygiene. The government should have allocated more money to set up hand washing facilities in public spaces,” the WaterAid Bangladesh country director added.
Tania Haque, professor at the women and gender studies department of Dhaka University, said increasing allocations for the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs alone were not enough to consider a budget gender friendly.
Aslo Read- Budget FY22: Prices up, prices down
“There is no one size fits all solution when it comes to designing a gender friendly budget. The whole budget should address gender issues through intersectionality, as we need to see gender as a spectrum rather than a men and women binary,” she told this correspondent.
The finance minister also hinted at establishing day care centres for children, expanding child development centres for extremely poor and marginalised children, and implementing projects on employment generation for destitute and helpless women in the southern districts of the country.
Tania Haque told Dhaka Tribune an allocation should be given for the establishment of day care centres for working class women in urban areas as well.
She stressed increasing the budget for research on gender-based topics, gender friendly infrastructure and female hostels.
“Women empowerment is not just about training them in e-commerce and other income-generating activities. Women empowerment is heavily dependent on their mobility. If our infrastructure is not women friendly, women cannot go out for work even if they have the skills necessary for such work,” she said.