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CSOs seek suspension of taxes, import duties on sanitary pads, petition lawmakers 

Several civil society organizations (CSOs) including Community Healthcare Initiative (CHI), Paramount Young Women Initiative (PAYOWI) and others have called on President George Manneh Weah to issue an Executive Order suspending taxes and import duties on sanitary pads.

They believe that this will impact women and girls’ access to sanitary pads, making them more affordable and accessible.

“As Feminist in Chief, we ask you to publicly stand with the women and girls of Liberia like you have always done, to tackle Period Poverty to enable women and girls to live, learn, lead and contribute meaningfully in their communities,” head of communication and mobilization at Community Healthcare Initiative, Nusone Euphemia Perkins said when she read a petition at the Legislature Tuesday, 31 May 2022.

Ms. Perkins said the lack of a sanitary pad is a bleeding disgrace and thousands of Liberian women and girls do not have access to sanitary products.

According to her, thousands of Liberian women and girls use old clothes, socks, rags, and tissue, which may lead to health complications. The petition calls on the Legislature to amend the [tax policy] law to make sanitary pads tax-free.

According to her, a local Liberian study reported that the lack of access to sanitary products and services has contributed to girls’ under-performance in school, teenage pregnancy, early child marriages, and school dropouts.

“Menstruation is still treated as a taboo, contributing to the lack of access to menstrual hygiene education. Menstruation is a normal biological process, and women and girls should not have to suffer for it,” the petition said.

A recent UNESCO study on sub-Saharan Africa showed that 1 in 10 girls misses school during their menstrual cycle, and the missed days equal 20% of a school year.

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“We ask the Government, through the Legislature, to amend the Revenue Code removing all taxes applicable to the importation and sale of sanitary pads in Liberia,” the CSOs’ petition noted.

“We ask the Legislature to consider allocating funds toward Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) in the next annual budget,” the petition added.

The group further called on the Ministry of Education to prioritize, invest, and accelerate efforts to ensure the teaching of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in schools, and ensure that all schools, public or private, have sanitary pads available in their bathrooms.   

“We ask the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and the Liberia Revenue Authority to commit to working with the Legislature to implement the amended tax policy, regulate and monitor the price of sanitary pads on the market,” the petition added.

The Executive Director of Community Healthcare Initiative (CHI), Naomi Tulay-Solanke said in late 2016, CHI adopted a robust strategy that promoted the implementation of an annual menstrual hygiene campaign as part of CHI’s core projects.

Mrs. Tulay-Solanke said CHI launched the #pas4girls project, the local production of reusable sanitary pads for women and girls, to make access to sanitary pads more available and sustainable, an eco-friendly solution.

“We will continue to ask schools, public and private offices, businesses, government ministries, and development partners to commit to having sanitary pads in their bathrooms that can be located when and if there is an emergency for a woman or girl to use pads. So far, we have gotten 25 businesses and public/private offices to commit,” Mrs. Tulay-Solanke said.

She detailed that they are asking lawmakers to accept their petition to repeal the tax law and policy, where applicable, to remove taxes on sanitary pads and shift sanitary products from non-medical to medical.

“We are also calling on the First Lady of Liberia to join our voices in advocating for removing taxes on sanitary pads. With the First Lady joining us in this fight, collectively, we are a step closer to solving period poverty in Liberia,” she said.

According to her, CHI in particular held numerous engagements at the local and national levels to normalize conversations about menstruation among parents, men, boys, adolescent girls, development partners, and the government and its ministries.

She said in 2017, CHI and other CSOs petitioned the Ministry of Education (MoE) to prioritize and teach menstrual hygiene management in schools as a standalone topic.

Mrs. Tulay-Solanke said during the first week of May, CHI launched its online and physical petition across the 15 counties to solicit 20,000 signatures from adolescent girls, boys, and women. So far, she said they have gotten 20,000 plus signatures.

 CHI has also begun its “Foot-soldier” campaign, which aims to ensure that provision of sanitary pads in bathrooms is as normalized as having toilet paper in bathrooms.

“We are also sending [a message to] the public that Women and girls do not only bleed on International Menstrual Hygiene Day, May 28th. Women and girls bleed every month. Therefore, our individual or collective campaign must go beyond May 28th,” Mrs. Tulay – Solanke said.

She noted that after May 28, what happens? Women and girls continue to bleed.

Community Healthcare Initiative is a feminist-led organization established in 2014 that is working to strengthen and promote healthcare, and social services to under-served women and children, focusing on adolescent girls.

It has established Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) clubs in 5 of the 15 counties, focusing on menstrual hygiene management.

Nimba County Electoral District #4 Representative Gunpue L. Kargon, Chair on Claims and Petitions who received the petition along with colleagues, said they will lobby to ensure the amendment of the tax policy on sanitary pads.

“This petition looks interesting and I am more interested because I know some of my sisters and other women in classrooms and market grounds are being disgraced,” Representative Kargon said.  

He said he believes that the initiative is in the interest of the women of Liberia and remains to receive the necessary attention from his colleagues.  

Bong County Electoral District #6 Representative, Moima Briggs-Mensah said women’s matters are usually taken seriously by some of their colleagues and therefore, the petition will be taken seriously.

“I am a sister and a mother and if you are a man, anything concerning women must concern you too. We as females, will work with our ‘He’ For She’ to work and ensure that our girls have sanitary pads free,” said.

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The New Dawn is Liberia’s Truly Independent Newspaper Published by Searchlight Communications Inc. Established on November 16, 2009, with its first hard copy publication on January 22, 2010. The office is located on UN Drive in Monrovia Liberia. The New Dawn is bilingual (both English & French).
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