In today’s Finshots, we talk about Scotland’s attempt to erase period poverty and explain why other countries may need to follow suit.

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The Story

Imagine having to choose between a bag of rice and a pack of sanitary napkins. Sounds pretty horrible, doesn’t it?

But that’s precisely what millions of women have to deal with each day. They can choose to put food on the table or they can buy menstrual products. And it’s no surprise that most women choose to prioritize hunger. In fact, according to the World Bank, close to 500 million women and girls deal with this problem each year. They lack basic access to menstrual products, sanitation facilities, and adequate education and collectively, this desperate situation is termed period poverty.

But, why are we talking about period poverty now? Why choose to talk about menstrual hygiene today?

Well, it’s all thanks to Scotland. This tiny nation of 5.4 million people just made a radical proposal. They’ll be offering free period products to anyone who needs them and in one fell swoop, they’ve got the whole world talking about it.

But, it didn't happen overnight. In fact, it started at least 6 years ago, when Monica Lennon, a member of the Scottish Parliament asked the government what it was doing to improve accessibility to menstrual products. And she didn’t just stop there. She worked hard to make period products accessible to everyone at relatively no cost. And after relentlessly pursuing the matter for a few years, she finally got Scotland to enshrine the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill into an Act. The law came into effect on the 15th of August 2022.

Also, to be fair to Scotland, this isn’t the country’s first tryst with period products. Since 2017, they’ve spent about £27 million to improve accessibility and they even rolled out a scheme in 2018 offering students period products for free. It seems they’ve fully recognised the impact this can have on women.

But forget Scotland. What about other countries? How big is the problem really?

Let’s start with the US — the world’s largest economy. A study conducted in 2018 revealed that 70% of low-income citizens couldn’t afford period products. In Canada, 1 in 5 women said that they were forced to use and reuse menstrual  products beyond the recommended timelines. Meanwhile, in New Zealand, nearly 1 in 12 school-age girls skip school because they can’t afford period products.

So yeah, it’s pretty endemic.

And as we noted already, this has a massive impact on women and the economy in general. If young girls don’t have access to the right suite of menstrual products, and basic sanitation facilities they resort to cheaper alternatives that may include something as rudimentary as old cloth. This in turn has an adverse impact on their health and education.

Take India for instance. Around 23 million girls drop out of school annually due to period poverty. Even others miss classes on a monthly basis because they don’t have access to menstrual products. Put these together and you can see how the numbers add up quickly. It excludes women from the workforce and puts a massive dent in our economic output.

So if Scotland has realized the gravity of this matter and the pressing need to end period poverty, what are other countries up to?

Well, they are taking baby steps.

See, the most common approach to fighting period poverty is through taxation. You drop things like VAT and GST and you can make these products slightly more affordable. Countries including South Africa, Canada, Australia, Colombia, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Nigeria, Uganda, Lebanon, and Trinidad & Tobago have all scrapped the period tax. Even India revoked a 12% GST or ‘blood tax’ on sanitary napkins and tampons in 2018.

But the thing is…lowering taxes doesn’t automatically translate to improved accessibility.

Take Kenya for instance — the first country in the world to abolish taxes on period products. They did this all the way back in 2004. But 12 years on, studies show that 65% of women still can’t afford them.

Even India presents a similar story.

The average woman has to spend ₹300 a month for period products. And in a country where the minimum daily wage rate is around ₹180, you can see how women can be priced out of these products entirely. And it’s a monthly commitment — a commitment that you can’t just wish away. Which explains why about 43 million Indian women still can’t afford to bleed.

But is the government doing something about it?

Well, they did launch the “1 rupee Suvidha pad” scheme a couple of years ago and even decided to allocate ₹12,000 crores annually to subsidize menstrual products. But there’s not a lot of chatter about the scheme.

All we know is that at one point, there weren’t enough sanitary pads to meet demand.

So yeah, it’s clear that more countries need to step up and improve accessibility to menstrual products.

Maybe take a leaf out of Scotland’s playbook.

Until then…

Ditto Insights: Insurance and Taxation

Unlike sanitary products, health and term insurance premiums are taxed at 18%. And while the government has refused to exempt health and term insurance premiums from the ambit of GST, many proponents have argued for complete abolition.

And their argument is pretty compelling too.

India is relatively uninsured compared to other more developed countries. And a single trip to the hospital can wipe away a life’s worth of savings. Unfortunately, premiums are already pretty high across the board. And you throw in the 18% GST and it becomes even more expensive. So, many proponents have argued for a reduction in GST rates on health and life insurance premiums to increase insurance penetration in this country.

Oh also, one other thing. While the premiums carry an 18% GST, the payouts aren’t taxed. For instance, if I have a term insurance policy and my family claims the benefit upon my death, then the lump sum they receive will be tax-free.

So yeah, if you are looking to buy a health or a term insurance policy, don’t forget to talk to us at Ditto.

Until then...

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