rato kar maaf gar placards

#RaatoKarMaafGar : The Fight for Period Equity in Nepal

Source: Author


Author: Shubhangi Rana

The Covid-19 pandemic was disastrous is many ways. Yet, it also served to teach us many things as a country and society. One of the pandemic’s such unintended lessons was the revelation that period products were not listed among the officially endorsed assortment of essential items in Nepal. Pad manufacturers and retailers were thus not able to function at full capacity and distribute period products across the country as they would during pre-pandemic times. Due to this reason, many menstruating individuals, especially in rural parts, were left with little choice but to use unhygienic and unethical alternatives during their periods. 

The longstanding social stigmatization of menstruation hinders the fostering of an enabling environment of open discourse, which can play an integral role in overcoming its deeply rooted and culturally embedded taboo. So, the pandemic was an eye-opener for many, as we realized that Covid-19’s disruptions were further exacerbating challenges already being faced by menstruating individuals. With schools closed, the state-funded free pad distribution program in educational institutions was interrupted. This disruption caused young girls to turn to makeshift solutions, risking dangerous potential health complications. It was not only a problem of accessibility and availability, but also one of affordability, as the economic challenges brought by the pandemic further worsened the state of menstrual health. The 13 percent value-added tax (VAT) exercised on menstrual products already makes it difficult for menstruators to afford vital items. The pandemic’s large economic footprint, which saw over 560,000 Nepalis losing their jobs, only worsened the situation.

protest of rato kar maaf gar
Source: Author

Nepal has granted VAT exemption to items that the government considers ‘essential,’ such as contraceptives, medicines, etc. The VAT Act, as per Schedule 1, allows tax exemption on key contraceptives such as condoms to ensure their widespread affordability and access. Interestingly, the government of Nepal seems to have understood the importance of effective family planning and safe sex practices, as evidenced by these provisions. However, the same cannot be said for healthcare and hygiene, especially that of menstruating individuals. The constitution affirms the Rights of Women, which includes the right to safe motherhood and reproductive health as part of its fundamental rights under Article 38(2). Yet, menstrual products are nonetheless still taxed with the extra 13%.

The pandemic deepened period poverty, which pushed Pad2Go, a Nepal-based social enterprise to campaign for the removal of the 13% VAT levied on all period products to boost accessibility to all. The campaign started in August 2020 with an petition that has since been signed by more than 10,000 individuals. Concurrently, Pad2Go has been involved in active discussions with civil society organizations, lawyers, government officials, manufacturers, and various stakeholders to ensure that the campaign remains far and inclusive.

According to the Department of Customs, Nepal imported sanitary pads worth Rs 1.17 billion in the fiscal year 2020/2021. The government is estimated to have made about Rs 342.31 million through taxes. Removing the tax would not only impact the government’s revenue but also put domestic pad manufacturers at a disadvantage as compared to foreign manufacturers. Similarly, due to the lack of MRP (maximum retail price) regulation in Nepal, it was observed that the removal of this VAT might not be felt by everyone.

rato kar maaf gar protesters
Source: Author

Removing the 13% VAT on menstrual products alone isn’t enough as there are several other issues that require careful consideration at the policy making level. Hence, the team incorporated a holistic approach for the #RaatoKarMaafGar campaign and developed an implementation agenda which was then shared with the government. Pad2Go also involved the citizens of Nepal by conducting innovative protests, providing an essential voice for the minority and the marginalized. This provided a platform for individuals from various backgrounds to come together and fight for equity, with the ethos that public protests are an expression of urgency, pushing the government and policymakers to catalyze change.

Unfortunately, these efforts were not reflected in the new financial budget of Nepal. The budget expresses the following:

  • The government will provide a 90% customs tax concession on imported sanitary pads
    ● For Nepali manufacturers of sanitary pads, only 1% tax will be levied on raw materials
    ● Only Nepal made sanitary pads to be used for distribution by the Government and public


While it is certainly commendable that the government is displaying an understanding of the urgenct need to incorporate menstrual product related amendments into the budget, it is still frustrating to see the route taken by the policymakers. A key understanding is that with the decrease in customs and subsidy for Nepali manufacturers, the cost of sanitary pads should potentially decrease for the end-users and beneficiaries. However, its effect can only be determined through active regulation and implementation of the budget.Additionally, it is further disheartening to see our policymakers not include other menstrual products in the budget while the world is moving towards adopting a more sustainable lifestyle.

The #RaatoKarMaafGar campaign’s main focus was to provide menstrual products at an affordable rate, without any VAT added, to the end-users. Since the demands have not been directly met – or even adequately addressed – the team will continue to focus on ground-level research to determine and highlight whether the cost of sanitary products has been decreased; conduct a collaborative campaign movement to create more pressure and promote a shif toward sustainable period practices.

The graphics, views and opinions expressed in the piece above are solely those of the original author(s) and contributor(s). They do not necessarily represent the views of Centre for Social Change.

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