The tampon tax debate was won in Mauritius, and 13 years ago in Kenya. Other countries still consider feminine hygiene products a luxury, tax-wise.

The battle against ‘tampon tax’ in Africa continues to see small victories, as the Mauritian government agreed to drop the tax its citizens pay on sanitary wear. Gender consultant and feminist activist Trisha Gukhool has been campaigning against the tax since February and finally succeeded last month.
In 2004, Kenya became the first nation in the world to end the tampon tax. The country also ended an import duty on sanitary pads in 2011, helping to reduce costs significantly for low-income women and girls.

Despite its forward thinking, with an average household living on just two dollars a day, 65% of women and girls in Kenya are still unable to afford sanitary pads. The situation is so dire that in a 2015 study of 3000 Kenyan women, Dr Penelope Phillips-Howard found one in 10 15-year-old girls were having sex to get money to pay for sanitary ware.

In South Africa in 2016, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) students made the news with their call for an end to tampon tax. In South Africa, sanitary wear is taxed and value added tax (VAT) is charged on these goods, as with other goods classified as luxury and/or non-essential goods. There are several goods and services that are exempt for VAT or zero-rated for tax, however, tampons, pads and other sanitary wear that women require are not included in this.

Charging VAT

According to the South Africa Revenue Service (Sars), the country's VAT is based on destination consumption and is levied at 14%. That is, it is applied to the following:

• The supply of all goods or services made by any vendor in the course or furtherance of any enterprise carried on by that person;
• The importation of any goods into South Africa by any person;
• The supply of any “imported services” as defined in the VAT Act.

However, there are certain goods that are exempt from VAT: 19 basic food items which include maize, eggs and legumes.

Advocates for the abolishment of tampon tax continue to argue that feminine hygiene products should be classed in the same category as basic food items and necessities and not as luxury items.