Capitol Hill, Monrovia –The Community Healthcare Initiative (CHI), Paramount Young Women Initiative (PAYOWI), adolescent girls and several pro women civil society organizations have petitioned the Liberian Government through the Executive and the Legislature to take measures aimed at supporting menstrual hygiene in Liberia.
The groups want President George M. Weah to issue executive order suspending taxes and import duties on sanitary pads to give women/girls’ access to sanitary pads and make it 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 live, learn, lead and contribute meaningfully in their communities,” said Nusone Euphemia Perkins, the head of communication and mobilization at CHI who read the petition said on behalf of the groups.
Presenting the petition to the House of Representatives, 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, they use old clothes, socks, rags, and tissue, which may lead to health complications. The petition calls on the Legislature to amend the law.
According to her, a local Liberian study reported that the lack of access to sanitary products and services has contributed to girls’ underperformance 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 equals 20% of a school year.
“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. 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 said.
Studies have shown that lack of menstrual knowledge, poor access to sanitary products and a non-facilitating school environment can make it difficult for girls to attend school.
To address this problem, the groups called on the Ministry of Education to prioritize, invest, and accelerate efforts to ensure the teaching of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in schools, and for schools –public or private to 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.
She called on 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, we have gotten 20,000+ signatures. CHI has also begun its “Footsoldier” 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 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. After May 28, what happens? Women and girls continue to bleed,” she said.
Community Healthcare Initiative (CHI) is a feminist-led organization established in 2014 that is working to strengthen and promote healthcare, and social services to underserved women and children, focusing on adolescent girls; CHI has established Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) clubs in 5 of the 15 counties, focusing on menstrual hygiene management.
Nimba County District #4 Representative Gunpue L. Kargon, Chair on Claims and Petitions who received that petition along with colleagues said they will lobby to ensure the amendment of the tax policy on sanitary pads.
He was joined by Representatives Moima Briggs-Mensah (District #6, Bong County) and the Chairman of the Committee on Health, Rep. Joseph Nyan Somwarbi (District #3, Nimba County) who promised to the join Rep Kargon in galvanizing support for the petition in plenary, the highest decision making body of the House.