Posts

‘No VAT on Pad’ protests prompt Bangladesh government to remove proposed tax

Hefty tax on sanitary pads called “disgraceful” and “anti-women”

By Pantha Rahmanrez / Translated by Rezwan

BANGLADESH–In June 2019, activists in Nigeria demonstrated over their government’s intention to reinstate a tax on sanitary pads in the 2019/2020 budget. Last year, amidst protests, India removed a controversial tax on sanitary pads, which was introduced in 2017. Now, Bangladesh joins the global debate on period poverty.

Recent protests called for a halt to the proposed 40 percent value-added tax (VAT) and supplementary duties on imported raw materials of sanitary napkins in the country’s new budget. Locally made pads are already subject to a 15 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on the shelf price, so additional taxes on the imported ingredients would make these products out of reach for many — even those already using hygienic disposable pads.

Amidst calls to break the silence and widespread use of the slogan “No VAT on Pad”, the Bangladesh government, in an unprecedented move, scrapped the proposed tax hike on feminine products — but that doesn’t mean they are now affordable for women in Bangladesh.

The period taboo

In rural Bangladesh, women’s periods are still a taboo subject. Because menstruation is deemed impure, this imposes many restrictions on what women can do and where they can go. Even women who can afford these products rarely buy them at regular shops, mostly out of embarrassment.

According to 2014 Bangladesh National Hygiene Baseline Survey, during their menstruation cycle, 40 percent of girls miss school, for a median of three days a month.

Many girls miss school during their period. Photo by Firoze Ahmed, via Demotix.

Prohibitive costs

According to a report by the non-profit SNV Bangladesh, over 89 per cent of Bangladesh’s 78.4 million women still use old clothes or rags, as many cannot afford disposable sanitary napkins.

The annual market worth of the sanitary napkin industry (including adult diapers) in Bangladesh is around 3 billion Taka (US $35.5 million), 90 percent of which is supplied by local manufacturers. The per-packet price of sanitary napkins is 100-160 Taka (US $1.25-$2), so many in rural areas cannot afford them.

The cost of pads has remained high because of the need to pay existing customs and regulatory duties on the foreign-sourced raw materials needed for local assembly.

According to some manufacturers, the scrapping of the proposed increase in tax, however, won’t impact the current price. If the 15 percent value-added tax at the shelves is scrapped, manufacturers say, then the price will come down.

Old clothes or rags as alternatives

Many women are not aware of the health risks of reusing old clothes instead of sanitary napkins. The 2014 National Hygiene Survey discovered that embarrassment and lack of affordability contribute to women resorting to reusing rags and other available alternatives.

Noting that the use of rags instead of pads increases women’s health risk, Facebook user Shamima Islam explained that 73 percent of Bangladeshi women suffer from urinary tract and vaginal infections — which can lead to cancer — all because of a lack of menstrual hygiene.

Students of Rajshani University form a human chain June 29 demanding the scrapping of value added tax on sanitary pads. (The Daily Star through Global Voices)

On Facebook, Shahriar Shuvo recommended not only getting rid of the tax, but also introducing subsidies for sanitary napkins:

We have duty-free car facilities for our ministers and members of parliament. However, we impose 40 percent tax/VAT on essential menstrual hygiene products for women.

“Not only should the taxes be scrapped, I demand subsidies for these products to make them affordable to most women.”

Different sections of people also went offline and took to the streets to protest. Here in this video, a small section of university students are seen protesting the increase, forming a human chain in Dhaka’s Shahbag area:

Bangladeshi doctor, Sakia Haque, who traveled to all 64 districts of the country raising awareness about reproductive health and hygiene among schoolgirls, commented on the issue:

“[During my travels] I requested that every girl should use disposable sanitary pads instead of unhygienic cloths during menstruation. What can I say to them now?

“For those who were earning a mere 2,000-3,000 Bangladeshi Takas (US $25-$38) per month, disposable pads were a luxury. And now?”

On a feminist website called Nari (Women), Puspita Mondol shared a story about visiting a childhood friend in the Ashulia township near the capital, Dhaka:

“She (my friend) worked in a ready-made garment factory along with her husband. I realized it was the time for my period and I did not have sanitary pads with me. I asked her and she said that she doesn’t use (disposable) sanitary pads. So we went out to buy these. Usually, these are available in local pharmacies. I went to several pharmacies, and they didn’t have sanitary napkins on their shelves. The shopkeepers told me that they don’t keep the product on the shelves as (almost) no one buys them. I was immensely surprised as this is an industrial area where many women work. Nobody uses (disposable) pads! Maybe because of the high price, these workers cannot afford them and want to save money.”

Part of the challenge in making feminine products accessible is changing cultural norms. For women to realize their right to affordable supplies in order to stay healthy, menstruation must be seen as natural and normal. In an op-ed in the Daily Prothom Alo, Mohammad Syed Bin Abdullah, a law student at Dhaka University, said that a civil awareness movement is what’s needed to make the government keep the cost of supplies down, so that feminine hygiene product will finally be affordable for all Bangladeshi women. #

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)

Armed detainees engage in hostile takeover of Indonesian high security prison

A prison riot involving forty convicted terrorists is currently unfolding in Depok, a West Javan city adjacent to the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

The riot began on Tuesday evening local time at Mobile Brigade Command Headquarters (Mako Brimob), a high security prison whose inmates include those convicted of terrorism.

According to official reports, a standoff occurred as a result of a simple misunderstanding over food between one inmate and a member of Densus 88, Indonesia’s counter-terrorism squad. The situation escalated quickly as the inmate incited others to action, took officers hostage, and managed to access the prison’s arms reserves.

Five Densus 88 officers were reported dead, while one was released after being taken hostage for more than 24 hours.

Detainees’ questionable motives

Through its propaganda outlet, the group ISIS claimed involvement in the incident. The Indonesian police have denied the group’s claim.

Most of the detainees belonged to JAD, a group designated terrorist by the US government.

Analyst Sydney Jones from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflicts (IPAC)was quoted as saying that pro-ISIS detainees have constantly caused trouble at the high security prison.

According to Indonesian terrorism analyst Al Chaidar, the riot wasn’t premeditated, but the motive could be vengeance against the authorities, who raided cells to conviscate smuggled mobile phones and copies of the Koran.

Hashtag solidarity on Twitter

On Twitter, Indonesians are using the hashtag #KamiBersamaPolri (We’re supporting the National Police) to send condolences to the relatives of the fallen officers and encourage the nation to stand firm against terrorism.

Image from Global Voices report.

(Juke Carolina/Global Voices)

Rice Fields and Carabaos: A Glimpse of Rural Life in the Philippines

Text by Mong Palatino / Global Voices Southeast Asia Editor

Photos by Lito Ocampo

Listen, can you not hear the song of a new life coming from the fields and the mountains? Photo and caption by Lito Ocampo, used with permission.

Veteran photographer and activist Lito Ocampo has been making frequent visits to his hometown of Pampanga, located in the central part of Luzon Island in the Philippines, to escape the noise and dirt of the capital region Manila.

His visits allowed him to recall his childhood while enjoying the quaint beauty of his birthplace.

Through photos he shared with Global Voices, Ocampo captured not just typical scenes in a lowland farming village, but also, perhaps unintentionally, the state of Philippine agriculture.

For example, the continuing prevalent use of carabaos reflects the backward condition of the country’s agricultural sector in general. The use of roads for drying crops indicates the lack of facilities available to farmers.

Beyond highlighting idyllic countryside life, Ocampo reminds young photographers to take in the plight of rural residents, especially farmers, who are among the country’s poorest people and suffer health risks due to the backbreaking work they undertake in the fields.

With urbanization continuing to spread, many farming villages and green habitats like the hometown of Ocampo can be instantly converted into commercial land or tourism centers. Thus, Ocampo’s photos can also be used to educate the public about problems regarding land use, the status of the land reform program and the pressing need to protect the environment.

Take a virtual tour of Sta. Rita town in the province of Pampanga:

Global Voices Inks Partnership with the Philippines’ Kodao Productions

Global Voices has signed a content partnership with Kodao Productions, an alternative media company based in the Philippines.

Established in 2000, Kodao is recognized as one of the oldest existing alternative news groups in the country. The word ‘kodao’ refers to an indigenous calendar used in southern Philippines to mark social events in a tribal community.

Kodao, through its video and community radio programs, is known for its coverage of social issues that affect the grassroots such as land reform, labor relations, climate change, corruption, human rights violations, mining activities, and urban poor policies.

Last February 2018, its website was hacked which was quickly linked by media groups to the “government’s efforts to silence critical media.” The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines condemned the attack “coming as it did when other media organizations are also under relentless attacks from enemies of press freedom and other human rights.”

Screenshot of Kodao website after it was hacked

Despite the cyberattack, Kodao continues to publish and broadcast stories through social media.

Its website will be relaunched soon and it will feature Global Voices stories on its main page.

Raymund Villanueva, director of Kodao, shares his enthusiasm about the partnership between Global Voices and Kodao:

Kodao’s reportage is strong on human rights, basic sectors and grassroots communities, environment protection, and conflict resolution, among other social justice issues in the Philippines. It hopes to contribute these kinds of stories to Global Voices in order for the international community to better understand the hopes and aspirations as well as the struggles of the Filipino people for a genuinely free, democratic, and just society.

Below is an example of Kodao’s work which highlights marginalized voices in society. The video report is about the impact of a proposed lakeshore expressway in Muntinlupa and Laguna which are located in the south part of Manila, the country’s capital.

‘Monarchy Restored’? China Set to Remove Two-Term Presidential Limit from Constitution

The Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee proposed on February 25 to remove term limits on the presidency and vice presidency of the People’s Republic of China, which would pave the way for Chinese President Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely.

Specifically, the committee suggested deleting a line from the country’s constitution that states the president and vice president “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms.”

The two-term presidential limit was put in place by former CPC leader Deng Xiaoping in 1982 to restrain internal power struggles within the party by establishing the collective leadership of the CPC. The decision signified the end of Mao Zedong’s era of individual dictatorship.

But the proposed constitutional amendment would end collective leadership and open the door for power to once again officially rest with an individual, and in this case with President Xi, who is also the CPC’s general secretary and military chief. Xi will finish his second term in 2023.

CPC mouthpiece Global Times described the proposal as a consolidation of the party’s “Power Trinities” and urged people to follow the party. But oppositional voices see the move as an imposition of an absolute monarchy system on top of China’s single-party political system.

Public discussion on the constitutional change is censored on mainland Chinese social media. Outside China, a statement co-signed by more than 40 public figures against the amendment was circulated widely online. The statement (via Chinese exiled activist Wang Dan’s Facebook) said:

We believe that the amendment is the foundation for the establishment of a tenure system of top leaders. In the future, China may [develop into a political system that has] an emperor without calling it an emperor and a monarchy without calling it a monarchy. The abolition of the two-term limit is another version of [early 20th-century Chinese emperor] Yuan Shikai’s [short-lived] restoration of monarchy and a de facto manifesto of a new monarchy system against the very idea of a republic. This is a historical regression and a denial of 40 years of China’s reform effort. This is about China’s future and we, and all Chinese people, should stand up to express our outright objection to such historical regression since the 1911 Xinhai revolution [which led to the downfall of the Qing dynasty and the end of monarchy in China].

In addition to sharing the statement, Wang Dan also signed it. He commented further on Twitter:

中共正式提出修改憲法,國家主席可以連選連任,至此,習近平準備重新恢復最高領導幹部終身制,當永遠的統治者的個人野心,已經昭然若揭。
習近平大開歷史的倒車,硬把中國拉上了倒退回封建皇權時代的專制舊路。這樣的舉動,只能用瘋狂兩字來形容。但是我相信,物極必反,中共必將在他手中,成為歷史。

The CPC has officially suggested a constitutional amendment. The country’s presidents will be able to hold their office without limit. Now it is clear that Xi Jinping is set to restore the tenure system of top leaders. His ambition to become a lifetime ruler has been revealed. Xi Jinping is riding backward and forcing China to return to the old path of despotic feudal monarchy. Such an act can only be described with the word “crazy”. But I also believe in dialectics, the extreme will bring about change and he will turn CPC into history.

While some believe that such a “crazy” act will eventually end the “people’s democratic dictatorship” under the CPC, others are more pessimistic. Under Wang Dan’s Facebook post, one commenter said:

Unfortunately, the majority of Chinese people would support emperor’s rule. After the shock, people’s attitude would change from “what has gone wrong” to “this is it and we have to accept the reality and carry on”.

Another comment in response to Wang on Twitter said:

Actually, the constitutional amendment is not that surprising. The amendment is just turning “party dictatorship” into “party dictatorship led by an individual for his lifetime”. If it doesn’t work out, they can shift back to “party dictatorship”.

There are also some pro-Xi comments on Twitter. This one attempted to rationalize  Xi’s decision:

If Xi Jinping just wants to become a lifetime dictator, he does not need to continue in the office of president, he just needs to continue acting as the head of the military committee. That’s why the abolition of the two-term limit is not paving the way for lifetime dictatorship, but to prepare for reform — to buy more time for reform. After that, the constitution can be amended again. This is just a temporary tactic. We can foresee that a thorough political reform will begin soon.

Many Chinese netizens were shocked to see the constitutional amendment proposal as it clearly deviated from Deng Xiaoping’s 1982 reform effort. However, search terms related to the online discussion like “Xi Jinping”, “shameless” (不要臉), “long live the emperor” (萬歲萬歲萬萬歲), and “Yuan Shikai” (袁世凱) have been blocked on social media platforms in China.

Under the constitutional amendment proposal, Xi’s thoughts on “socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era” would also be incorporated into the country’s constitution. Moreover, the to-be-established anti-graft Supervision Commission, together with the administrative, judicial and procuratorial commissions, would be listed as official organs of the state. The Supervision Commission would merge the party’s Discipline Inspection Committees with the anti-corruption powers of the procuratorates (responsible for investigation and prosecution) and be the only agency focused on graft. The creation of the Supervision Commission has been interpreted as a strengthening of party control over the government. # (Oiwan Lam/Global Voices)