Both may well be classified as personal care items and yet at the crux of their very usage they are perhaps the best items to act as metaphors for the way that life remains unequally constructed between men and women. Recently the National Organization of Women (NOW) discovered that menstrual sanitary items were not included in the basket of basic items that were exempted from VAT.
Further, we discovered that while vat was charged on menstrual sanitary items that it was not charged on condoms. The lead agency in the NOW mechanism that deals with issues of menstruation and attendant health challenges is the Barbados Association of Endometriosis and PCOS (polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). NOW and the Association collaborated to commission a national survey to be able to gather important information on the issue of access to menstrual sanitary items.
The intent of the survey is to hopefully provide the information necessary for Government to reconsider the VAT charged on menstrual sanitary items in Barbados as well as the feasibility of regulating the prices of these items in Barbados to ensure that women are insulated from price gouging. The research was conducted by Resilia Accounting Services as a public good.
The work of the non-governmental community could not be done without the goodwill of corporate Barbados. It is always more humbling when that goodwill comes out of indigenous small and medium sized businesses that are themselves dependent largely on opportunities and goodwill for their own survival. This week I share a preview of some of the findings of the study.
The survey was administered using online modalities. A link was shared with various individuals with wide contact pools, via whatsapp groups and via Facebook and Instagram. The survey was completed by 652 respondents. It was run between July and August, 2019.
Most of the respondents who completed the survey (45 %) were in the in the 26 to 35 age range. The study revealed Barbadian women surveyed (596) chose sanitary pads as the preferred sanitary menstrual sanitary option. Four hundred and thirty nine respondents were purchasing menstrual sanitary items for themselves only, while one hundred and seventeen respondents indicated that they were purchasing sanitary items for multiple people.
Barbadian women were spending an average of between 30 to 50 dollars per month on sanitary items. This means that a woman purchasing sanitary items for herself and her daughter was spending as much as 60 to 100 dollars on a monthly basis on sanitary items. This is a significant cost when the salary ranges of working class Barbadian women are considered.
The average woman surveyed reported a cycle lasting about five to seven days. This statistic was an interesting one as generally women fall into the three to five-day range with fewer women reporting a five to seven-day range. I think this statistic in itself is an important one to signal the need for more research on Barbadian women, their cycles, features and challenges. Several women in Barbados are affected by fibroids, endometriosis, PCOS and other types of challenges that affect menstruation.
Women surveyed report that they are using about three to five sanitary napkins per day. This seems to fall below the recommended care standard of six to eight changes per day. If there are financial constraints and women have to spend a good portion of their financial resources on sanitary items then they may opt for less changes per day. This has potential to lead to other health concerns.
The cost of sanitary items may seem trivial when taken separately but when they are juxtaposed to the next most comparative personal care item, condoms, we begin to realize how gendered lives impose unequal burdens on women.
Condoms are safety devices used for a range of birth control and protective purposes when people choose to have sexual relations. Sanitary items are a necessary product for all girls and women who are having a menstrual cycle. While sanitary napkins are a necessity, condoms are not. Yet we have assisted in the purchase of condoms and left women to fend.
Some may want to argue that the provision of condoms will ensure that we have a smaller health expenditure. However, ensuring that women can remain active participants in economic activity ensures that each citizen is contributing maximally. Further, there are health bills that can arise when feminine hygiene is not seen to and these can contribute to sick benefits paid by the NIS.
The table below shows some of the prices of sanitary items on various shelves across Barbados and compares that pricing with that of condoms. Thanks to the stellar work of the Barbados Association of Endometriosis and PCOS and Resilia Services. I look forward to the public dialogue and the corrective discourse with the government.
Marsha Hinds is the President of the National Organisation of Women.