Rwanda: Poor women struggle to afford sanitary pads despite tax exemption

Women from poor families in Rwanda claim sanitary pads are still so expensive that they cannot afford them. As a last resort, some low income earning women and girls in rural areas use cloth pieces during their menstrual cycle.

The Government of Rwanda exempted taxes on sanitary pads in December 2019, in a move to lower the cost and make the products more affordable to users; according to the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion.

Despite this scrapping of the Value Added Tax (VAT), sanitary pads are still expensive at local markets and a large part of women and girls cannot afford them.

“A pack of sanitary pads on the market sells between 700Rwf and 1,200Rwf and above depending on the quality you need,” said a lady from Musanze District who preferred anonymity.

Niyonsaba Philomene from Nzahaha Sector in Rusizi District said “the cost is increasing every day; you can find it at 700Rwf in some  shops but the price raises up to 2,000Rwf  depending on the quality you need. “  “This is not an affordable price for ladies and young girls of our region” she added.

Tuyambaze Chantal, 35, from Cyuve Sector in Musanze District, says “pads are too expensive; they are not for us rural women.”

Emotionally expressing her concern, she said “You cannot work in a farm and get paid 1,000Rwf and you go to buy a sanitary pad at 1,200Rwf. It can’t work. We use pieces of cloth when we get periods,” she said.

However, specialists in Sanitation and Hygiene highlight that the use of pieces of cloth during menstruation is too risky. “Women and girls are likely getting infections because of those clothes,” said a healthcare woman at the CHUK. She added that the lack of affordable pads on the markets is a serious problem and has a big impact on their lives. This is even worse when access to clean water and decent toilets is still lacking.

School girl’s rooms helpful but not lasting solution

The room, locally known as “Icyumba cy’ Umukobwa” is a special room in schools where girls in their periods can go and access pads and some Menstrual Hygiene products especially those who cannot afford to buy sanitary pads. It is an initiative of different institutions including the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion and Imbuto Foundation which aims at minimizing cases of missing classes and drop out of schools for girls because of lack of sanitary pads.

Reports reveal that the heavy cost of pads has been cited as one of the reasons girls drop out of schools or miss classes whenever they are in their menstruation, either because they fear to be mocked or shamed.

In these rooms, girls at schools are given pads and space to change at any time as well as information about sexual reproductive health. Reports from the Ministry of Education confirm that these rooms at schools have reduced cases of school drop outs and missing classes during menstrual cycle.

Despite the good initiative, all girls and women need sanitary pads. Human rights activists urge the government to do its best so that sanitary pads are accessible on markets because pads use is not a privilege but human rights.

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