Pink tax refers to the additional amount of money women pay for goods and services that are equal to those of men.
The name basically stems from the observation that some of the overpriced products are pink in colour. It is often referred to as gender-based price discrimination against women.
A study by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, observed that products marketed specifically to women cost on average 7% more than products marketed towards men. The study also showed that men’s clothing was 8% less expensive than women’s clothing (Bessendorf,2015).
This discrepancy not only relates to clothing but also toys for kids, health care products amongst other things. The largest discrepancy was that of personal care/hygiene products. Personal care products marketed to women cost 13% more than men’s products. Services such as dry cleaning, hair cuts are not excluded from the pink tax.
Tariffs, product discrimination and product differentiation are some of the reasons why pink tax exists.
In the United States, some actions have been taken towards tackling the issue of pink tax such as the Pink Tax Repeal Act, Gender Tax Repeal Act and calls by other senators to ensure equality on product prices. However, not much has been done about the pink tax in Nigeria.
Those defending the pink tax claim that women are less price sensitive than men, meaning women have no issues paying more for goods and services rendered to them.
This issue of pink tax is a major problem for women living in and outside Nigeria because of the wage gap. It is no new information that women in Nigeria do not earn as much as their male counterparts. Research has shown that oftentimes employers underpay women because they feel women do not need as much money as men. Since men are always portrayed as the breadwinners of the family. Therefore, to some employers, men need more money than women.
Other factors discovered by further research include personal reasons on the part of women. Women seldom seek jobs that are not too demanding because of the domestic roles they play in their households (Uche,2018).
A good number of women request for jobs that enable them earn enough to put food on the table but also flexible enough to enable them handle other responsibilities.
Most times, women are subjected to negative stereotyping. Often categorised as weak or incompetent and unable to perform certain tasks as opposed to their male co-workers.
According to a report published by the National Bureau of Statistics, in Nigeria, men occupy 65.3% senior positions compared to 34.7% occupied by women between 2010-2015.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2009 indicated that Nigeria’s gender pay gap is among the highest in the world and women are underrepresented in the higher paid positions.
The latest data on unemployment by the National Bureau of Statistics, Nigeria indicated that women rank the highest when it comes to unemployment. The report showed that the number of unemployment hit 12.2 million women as against 9.5 million men from the 27 million Nigerians that are currently unemployed. Female unemployment has risen to 31.6 percent from 26.6 percent in the third quarter of 2018.
The Underemployment rate amongst males in Nigeria is at 26.3 percent in 2020 compared to 15.4 percent in 2018. While the underemployment rate for women spiked from 25.9 percent in 2018 to 31 percent in 2020.
In Nigeria, pink tax exists in products sold at markets, supermarkets, etc. and services rendered. Women’s clothing, skincare products, hair care products, etc. are not exempted. Cost of hair making, skincare products such as body washes, facial cleansers, and so on are more expensive when marketed towards women.
A few people however, argue that the pink tax is a myth. According to an article by Steven Horwitz, one question is whether the products being compared are in fact the same. He added that there are differences in the way products are produced and these differences can equally lead to price differences.
‘Perhaps, women’s haircuts cost more than men because they are more complicated and require more skill on the path of the service provider and perhaps, women’s clothes cost more to dry clean because they have more embellishments or other aspects of the fabric that require more care by the dry cleaner.’ -He stated.
Dr. Madsen Pirie, President of the Adam Smith Institute stated that there is no such thing as a fair price because some people are willing to pay more than others for goods and services based on what they place value on. He equally mentioned that prices convey information about what goods are available and how much people are prepared to pay for it. Therefore, people pay for things they desire.
Those who claim the pink tax is a myth suggest that women seek alternatives for products they are unwilling to pay for. They further assert that effort and money goes into production of goods therefore, the prices reflect the quality of goods sold to women.
Those clamouring for an end to pink tax highlight the fact that pink tax further contributes to economic inequality. As stated above, there is a gender-based wage gap which leaves women at a disadvantage. Paying more for goods and services targeted to women while they earn less than men means men hold majority of the purchasing power in the economy.
The inequality in prices of goods and services not only affects body products, clothing and the likes. It also affects sanitary products which women feel is highly unfair since men don’t get periods. These extra charges women have to pay for sanitary products is referred to as ‘Tampon Tax'. This has led to calls by different individuals and organisations to their various governments around the world for some years now to put an end to tampon tax.
Tampon tax refers to tampons and other feminine hygiene products such as sanitary pads, menstrual cups, etc subjected to value added tax or sales tax. Meaning they are not tax-exempt. Proponents of tax exemption argue that tampons and other menstrual products are essential and unavoidable and should therefore be made tax-exempt.
Those leading the movement against tampon tax refer to it as “regulatory discrimination”. Stating that it is wrong for the government to tax something that is out of control of women. Periods are natural and not man made which affects almost half of the population of the world, therefore women should not be taxed for getting them.
The increase in prices of sanitary pads and other menstrual hygiene products further puts a strain on poor households with young girls and women unable to afford them. Hence, leading to period poverty.
Period poverty refers to being unable to have access to sanitary products due to financial difficulties. This therefore hinders women and young girls from having access to safe, hygienic sanitary products to enable them handle their periods with dignity.
A situation whereby women and young girls cannot afford proper sanitary products or lack the basic knowledge and information about these products, their well being is at stake because some will resort to unhygienic options which in turn can negatively affect their health. Oftentimes such women turn to unsafe substitutes such as rags, newspapers, e.t.c.
WHAT IS VAT?
VAT meaning Value Added Tax is a consumption tax targeted at the supply of certain goods and services. It is borne by the final consumer.
VAT emerged in Nigeria through a military decree on 24th August 1993 under the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida.
The legal regime regulating the control and regulation of VAT on goods and services in Nigeria is the Value Added Tax Act (VAT Act) and the Finance Act (the Act).
The Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) is the agency accountable for accessing, collecting and accounting for tax and other revenues accruing to the Federal Government of Nigeria by section 7 of the VAT Act.
Any person that carries out business in Nigeria in relation to taxable goods and services is mandated upon commencement of business to register with the FIRS for the purpose of VAT correspondence.
The Federal Government determines what products are taxable and tax-exempt. Examples of tax-exempt products include; baby products, educational books, pharmaceutical products, fertiliser e.t.c
VAT is chargeable on goods (tangible or intangible)and articles of trade. VAT is also chargeable on services provided to a person in Nigeria, e.t.c
To know more about the newly amended VAT Act and taxable goods and services, check out this article by Banwo & Ighodalo.
Advocates of tampon tax-exemption believe sanitary products should not be taxed because it further contributes to gender bias.
Some countries in the world have taken steps to tackle period poverty. India for instance, eliminated 12% tax on feminine hygiene products in 2018. Mauritania and Tanzania expunged VAT on sanitary products. Zimbabwe subsidises local manufacturers of menstrual products. Kenya scrapped tampon tax and distributes menstrual products to school-aged girls.
Kenya budgets about 3 million dollars annually for distribution of free sanitary pads to girls in low-income communities. (Hallett, 2016).
Rwanda eliminated VAT on all sanitary products on 10th December, 2019. Canada also withdrew its tampon tax in mid-2015 following an online petition which gathered over fifty thousand signatures (Daybreak North, 2015). These are just a few examples.
It is applaudable that these countries amongst others have taken steps to either reduce or completely eliminate the tax on sanitary products. However, surprisingly this hasn’t led to the end of period poverty in most of these countries.
Take Kenya for example, Kenya repealed it’s Value Added Tax on pads and tampons in 2004 to lower the price consumers pay. Yet, studies have shown that Kenya is still one of the countries deep in period poverty.
This issue of period poverty however does not only affect Kenyans. Stellenbosch University Law Clinic noted about 30% of female learners in South African schools do not attend school when they menstruate as they cannot afford sanitary hygiene products, thus making them skip school (The Citizen, 2018).
Period poverty limits access to sanitary products and safe spaces to use these products effectively. Lack of safe spaces can be as a result of unhygienic private toilets, lack of water, etc. Making it difficult for girls and young women to properly manage their periods. Having poor knowledge of menstruation equally affects these women and girls negatively. Hence, proper sanitary education is required and is just as important as quality sanitary products.
Tampon tax in Nigeria and Africa as a continent affects the everyday lives of women. Quite frankly, the cost of sanitary pads are steep.
ALWAYS for example, an American brand of menstrual hygiene products, is highly patronised by young girls and women in Nigeria. According to Nigerian Bulletin, between 2014 to 2020, the price for Always Ultra hiked from 250 naira to 400 naira. Ladycare, another brand of menstrual hygiene products, equally upsurged to 400 naira from the previous amount of 200 to 250 naira. These are only two examples of other sanitary products in the Nigerian market.
Reasons for the price hike can be traced to inflation and the fall in exchange value of naira. This acceleration in prices puts women from low income homes at a disadvantage. There have been some calls by Nigerians to the Federal Government on the issue of tampon tax in Nigeria (Iroanusi,2019).
In 2018, there was a campaign on social media with the hashtag ‘#EndThe9jaTaxOnPads.’ This was in a bid to urge the Federal Government to eliminate the tax on sanitary products to make them more affordable to women and young girls in Nigeria. The pioneers of the hashtag also urged the government to distribute free sanitary pads to secondary school students and teenage girls in rural areas.
Also in 2018, a petition was submitted to the National Assembly with the title ‘An Appeal to End all the Taxes on Menstrual Hygiene Products and Pass the Menstrual Hygiene Bill.’ The petition was written by the pioneer of #EndThe9jaTaxOnPads; Harvey Olufunmilayo alongside Social Justice Advocate and co-founder of Whole Woman Network, Juliet Kego, public analyst and youth advocate, Yemi Fasipe, tax professional; Yemi Ojora and other social advocates (Iroanusi,2019).
The Menstrual hygiene bill sought to end the value added tax on sanitary products as well as end import duties on imported pads and grant and also give a pioneer industry status to all local pad producing companies in Nigeria. Such companies won’t pay company tax for 3 to 5 years.
Other requirements of the bill include; cut down prices of sanitary pads by 50%, make donations to NGOs distributing sanitary products tax free and make a ‘Policy of Public Conveniences’ which would mandate public institutions to constantly have sanitary pads in their toilets. However, nothing has been done about the petition so far.
Some Nigerian youths have contributed to helping girls in rural areas who cannot afford sanitary products. Mr. Adegoke Pamilerin is one of such youths. He frequently distributes pads to students in rural communities and has reached out to hundreds of secondary school girls in Lagos, Nigeria.
Also, some organisations assist in giving out pads to girls in Nigeria and educating them on their menstrual health. Examples are;
Padman Africa, a non-profit organisation distributes free pads and educates girls on menstrual hygiene.
Pad Up Africa, a non-profit organisation helps to sensitize adolescent girls and women in Africa on good menstrual hygiene management and empower them with sanitary pads.
Additionally, to curb the issue of period poverty in Africa, there have been suggestions to make reusable pads more accessible. However, this has faced backlash as critics say it is no more hygienic than rags.
In the economic scheme, the call for an end to VAT in Nigeria was finally adhered to. The Federal Government of Nigeria published the Value Added Tax (Modification Order) 2020. The order commenced 3rd February 2020. The Order modified the First schedule to VAT Act by defining and expanding the list of goods and services exempted from VAT.
Locally produced sanitary towels (sanitary towels produced in Nigeria) made the list as well as raw materials for the production of sanitary towels. This is a big step towards tackling period poverty in Nigeria.
The decision to make sanitary products VAT-exempt by the Nigerian government is a commendable step towards tackling the problem of period poverty.
However, it doesn’t end there. Some countries that eliminated VAT on sanitary products are still battling the issue of period poverty. One major example is Kenya. The Kenyan government does not tax sanitary products however, 65% of girls in Kenya cannot afford sanitary products.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health found that 1 in 15 year old girls in Kenya trade sex to afford sanitary pads making them even more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases.
According to Huru International, in Kenya, the average girl misses at least three days of school per month.
In 2011, Kenyan government policy allocated 240 million shillings annually towards the provision of free sanitary pads to girls in public schools through the National Sanitary Towel Programme. The sum increased to 400 million shillings in 2015. The programme was targeted to benefit 443,858 girls in public schools across 82 districts. (Geertz et al., 2016).
However, it has been insufficient in meeting the needs of estimated 2.6 million girls in primary and secondary schools.
It is surprising that despite the free distribution of pads to young girls in Kenya and sanitary products being tax-exempt there’s still the problem of period poverty in Kenya. Some of the reasons for this include;
1. Sanitary pad suppliers complain Kenyan government policy tender price for pads is extremely low which in turn makes suppliers compromise the quality in order to save cost. Thereby producing less quality sanitary pads.
2. Some suppliers produce a fraction of agreed upon products. Thus, making products inaccessible to a vast majority of Kenyan girls.
3. Girls have inconsistent stock out in school and only receive support during their academic years.
4. Facilities in rural areas are ill-equipped to support girls and women to manage menstruation. Lack of access to clean water and private toilets both in school and at home make it difficult for girls and women to manage their periods with dignity and concealment.
5. In Kenya, small enterprises complain about inefficient distributors. They have troubles accessing the best distributors. Some goods even get stolen in transit. (Geertz et al.,2016).
These are a few of the problems Kenya faces in tackling menstrual health management for young women and girls in Kenya. It is therefore important to note that making sanitary products tax exempt is not enough as stated earlier.
To promote menstrual health management, the Nigerian government needs to understand price sensitivity of women. A cross-sectional and longitudinal research is encouraged to determine how much women are willing to pay for sanity products. This could also be a solution to pink tax in Nigeria.
There is an undeniable wage gap in Nigeria and women need goods and services they can afford, not products that would strip them off their earnings in a short amount of time.
Also, companies reiterate the expenses involved in packaging for women’s products. Companies claim to spend more time designing women’s products in order to make these products more attractive and pleasing to the eye in a bid to attract female consumers. This can also be done to attract any target market- this method is referred to as product differentiation in economic and marketing terms.
Rather than over designing products, companies can cut down on product design in order to save cost which will in turn reduce the market price for women. What matters most at the end of the day are the functions the products can perform, not necessarily how they look.
Lastly, government subsidies can help promote domestic manufacturing. This will help improve domestic production of sanitary products. Below are a few suggestions for the Nigerian government to further alleviate period poverty:
1. The government should grant subsidies to organisations distributing free sanitary products to girls in Nigeria.
2. Partner with local sanitary products producing companies to aid distribution to schools and rural areas where majority of young girls and women cannot afford sanitary products.
3. Have an effective distribution channel to ensure no division is left behind.
4. It is also important the government pays partnering companies their due and not cut costs to avoid such companies from compromising quality.
5. Likewise, in accordance with the requirements of the desired Menstrual Hygiene Bill by the pioneer of #EndThe9jaTaxOnPads, Mr. Harvey Olufunmilayo, sanitary products should be distributed in public institutions all over Nigeria. It should equally be given out in hospitals to patients as well to boost distribution.
Conclusively, it is important to note that the fight against period poverty in Nigeria, Africa and the world will not end in a day. However, with important steps, significant changes can be made. Thank you to all individuals and NGOs alike who in their own ways have contributed to the fight against period poverty. You are appreciated!
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