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‘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.)

Si Ate Melod at ang patuloy na pakikibaka ng SUMIFRU workers

Si Ate Melody “Melod” Gumanoy, 43 taong gulang, ay isa sa mahigit 300 manggagawa ng Sumifru, isang Japanese company sa Mindanao na nag-eexport ng mga prutas. Nagtungo sa Maynila ang mga nagwewelgang manggagawa ng Sumifru upang ipanawagan ang pagpapatigil ng kontraktwalisasyon ng kumpanya.

Mahigit 23 taon nang manggagawa si Melod sa Sumifru. Siya rin ang secretary ng Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Suyapa Farm (NAMASUFA-NAFLU-KMU). Nagsimulang magwelga ang mga manggagawa sa iba’t ibang planta ng Sumifru noong Oktubre 1, 2018, dahil ito sa pagmamatigas ng management ng kanilang kumpanya na gawin silang regular.

Sa kawalang suporta ng LGU sa kanilang lugar sa Compostela, Compostela Valley at patuloy na pandarahas sa kanila sa ilalim ng batas militar sa Mindanao, sa Maynila na nila ipinagpapatuloy ang kanilang laban. Isa lamang si Ate Melod sa marami pang kababaihang manggagawa na biktima ng hindi patas ang pagtrato, walang sapat na sahod at hanggang ngayon ay kontrakwal pa rin.

Patuloy na ipinaglalaban ng mga manggagawa ng Sumifru ang kanilang karapatan sa sapat na sahod, regularisasyon at pagkakaroon ng sapat at tamang benipisyo para sa mga kababaihan at matatanda. (Bidyo ni: Jo Maline D. Mamangun/ Kodao)

Teacher Rose–kabataang guro ng mga Lumad

Isinalaysay ni Jeany Rose Hayahay, 21 taong gulang at isang fulltime volunteer teacher ng Salugpungan (Lumad school) sa Mindanao ang kanilang nararanasan sa kabila nang matinding atake sa kanilang paaralan ng mga militar.

Pursigido sila na ituloy ang pag-aaral at mabigyan ng maayos na edukasyon ang mga Lumad na tanging hangad ay magkaroon ng malaking papel sa lipunan at pahalagahan ang kanilang kultura.

Narito din ang kanyang panawagan sa kapwa guro at kababaihan sa pagdiriwang ng International Womens Month. (Bidyo ni: Maricon Montajes/ Kodao)

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One Billion Rising 2019 condemns abuse of women and children

Women’s groups Gabriela and Babae Ako, along with other progressive organizations gathered for the annual One Billion Rising (OBR) 2019 at Rajah Sulayman Park in Manila last February 16.

With the theme “Rise, Resist, Unite! Labanan ang abuso sa Babae, Bata at Bayan”, the event condemned what it called the Rodrigo Duterte administration’s misogynist and tyrannical attacks against women and people.

According to Gabriela, OBR 2019 was part of the continuing global campaign to end violence against women and to show solidarity with women from all around the world who are rising and raging against all forms of violence against women, especially those perpetrated by the state.

Through street dancing and protest, the groups vowed to intensify their struggle for women’s dignity, democracy and people’s welfare. (Video by Joseph Cuevas)

Women human rights defenders decry State attacks

Women group Tanggol Bayi and Gabriela along with other progressive groups held a picket protest outside Gate 1 of Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City Thursday, November 29, in commemoration of International Women Human Rights Defenders Day. They also call for an end to the continuing attacks against Women Human Rights Defender (WHRD).

Tanggol Bayi said that as of September 2018, 33 WHRD have been killed under the Rodrigo Duterte government and 45 are imprisoned based on trumped-up charges.

The group cited the arrest of Hedda Calderon, a long-time women activist and council member of Gabriela Womens Party, last October in Sta. Cruz in Laguna as wekk as the killings of Elisa Badayos, secretary general of Karapatan in Central Visayas in November 2017 and Mariam Uy Acob, paralegal of Kawagib (Moro Human Rights Alliance) last September.

Tanggol Bayi noted that “these attacks are far from isolated; they are fueled by a patriarchal and militarist society that flaunts the humiliation of women as décor to toxic machismo and thus, an inevitable outcome of State terrorism.”

“We reiterate our call to stop the attacks against women and WHRDs. This situation is urging us to unite and further strengthen our voices against misogyny and rising tyranny and dictatorship,” Tanggol Bayi ended. (Report and video by Joseph Cuevas)

 

IAWRT, charging towards the future

Travelling almost 10,000 kilometers to the other side of the globe, four members of the Philippine chapter of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) attended the organization’s Regional Conference in Entebbe, Uganda from October 2-5, 2018

Themed “IAWRT Looking into the Future,” the global event gathered 50 participants from five continents representing 11 of the 14 IAWRT chapters worldwide.

IAWRT International President Violet Gonda in her opening speech underscored the importance of the conference as a milestone in IAWRT’s events calendar.

“It is here that we will share with the members the work done in the last 10 months of the new leadership. More importantly, it is here that members will get involved in mapping out the road ahead for the association,” Gonda said.

IAWRT is moving quickly into the future, its officers said. At the conference, two new chapters were formally acknowledged, Afghanistan and Iraq-Kurdistan, represented by their respective chapter heads, Najiba Ayubi and Awaz Salim Abdulla.

The conference also created a new Committee for Chapter Development with the objective of strengthening chapter capacities and capabilities.

This brings the number of committees created by the current leadership to 12 in the span of just 10 months, which Gonda noted is the biggest in IAWRT history.

Some of the other committees created are the following: 1) Committee in Relation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women; 2) Scholarship Committee; 3) Gender Mainstreaming Committee; 4) Asian Film Festival Committee; 5) Rural Women and Media Committee; 6) Community Radio Committee; and 7) The Gender Based Online Harassments Committee.

Meanwhile, IAWRT’s 2018 full-length video documentary “Displacement and Resilience: Women Live For A New Day” was launched at the conference that features the stories of five women refugees from Syria, Tibet, Myanmar and the Philippines. Segments of the video were directed by five individual members from the said countries.

“Displacement and Resilience” presented the following:

  1. The stories of Mariam and Haifa, two Syrian women who fled Allepo and are now seeking refuge in two different countries, as told by Eva Anandi Brownstein and Khedija Lemkecher, respectively;
  2. The story of Namgyal from the Tibet Movement for Self Determination, as told by Afrah Shafiq of India;
  3. The story of Lumad indigenous peoples leader Bai Bibiaon, as told by Erika Rae Cruz of the Philippines; and
  4. The stories about the Rohingya Refugee Crises of Myanmar, as told by IAWRT Board member Archana Kapoor together with Chandita Mukherjee.

Mukherjee also served as the executive producer of the entire project who was responsible for combining these five stories into one documentary.

The International Board and the Philippine chapter launched Amplifying the People’s Voices: The Philippine Community Radio Experience and Challenges, a handbook on community radio prepared by IAWRT-Philippines recounting three decades of community radio experience in the country at the conference.

A workshop on community radio was conducted during the conference that showed participants how a community radio narrowcast program is organized and held. It was facilitated by IAWRT-USA’s  Sheila Katzman with the Philippine Chapter delegates.

In addition, the conference approved two new organizational documents: the Code of Conduct and Election Guidelines.

Lastly, the membership also affirmed the International Board’s decision to set-up an International Secretariat office in the Philippines.

IAWRT-Philippines head Jola Diones Mangun welcomed the decision, saying “the Philippine chapter is elated and honored with the decision.”

“We will do our best for IAWRT as it charges towards the future,” Mamangun added.

The Conference ended with the members extending the term and mandate of the International Board until 2020.  # (Report by Walkie Miraña / Slideshow by Lady Ann Salem)

 

IAWRT, CHARGING TOWARDS THE FUTURE

Arrested peasant advocates tortured, Karapatan says

The four peasant rights workers arrested in Nueva Ecija recently may have been tortured, human rights group Karapatan said.

In a statement, the group said Yolanda Diamsay Ortiz (46) of Anakpawis Party, Eulalia Ladesma (44) of Gabriela Women’s Party, and youth activists Edzel Emocling (23) and Rachel Galario 20 bore visible bruises on their faces when visited by kin last October 14.

The four were arrested by operatives of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), Philippine National Police and elements of the 7th Infantry Division in Sitio Bangkusay, Brgy. Talabutab Norte, Natividad, Nueva Ecija last October 13/

They are being held by the CIDG in their office at the Old Capitol building in Cabanatuan City.

Ladesma’s daughter told Karapatan after their visit her mother recounted that her hair was grabbed and was forced to drop to the ground when the CIDG operatives accosted her.

While on the ground, Ledesma was kicked several times and her hands tied thereafter while being forced to admit to being “Mariz”.

The daughter also relayed that she also saw Ortiz with a bruised face, her left eye swollen and there were hand marks on her neck due to strangulation.

Ladesma and Ortiz repeatedly told the former’s daughter that they were hit every time they refused to answer their captors’ questions.

Karapatan paralegals were not allowed to have access to the four women.

“Karapatan strongly condemns the illegal arrest, detention, and torture undergone by the four women human rights defenders in Nueva Ecija. This is indefensible,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

“This is precisely what happens when you have security forces that have no respect for human rights. This is the kind of police and military that we have – uniformed men with no integrity and not the slightest respect for women and their rights,” Palabay added.

Palabay said the four were arrested two days being Rural Peasant Women’s Day on October 15 when the world honors the struggles of women peasants and their advocates.

Palabay also lamented how abuses against rural women persist in the Philippines despite the ratification of laws that explicitly prohibit such violations, including the Anti-Torture Law of 2009.

This is on top of legislation and policies that seek to protect women from all forms of violence, including the Magna Carta of Women, Palabay said.

Karapatan noted that there has been a spike in the number of arrests of activists on the basis of trumped-up charges and the an increase of harassment cases against rights defenders – all alleged to be “rebels” by the Rodrigo Duterte government.

The 7th Infantry Division for its part said in a statement that the four women were “rebels conspiring against the government.”

Palabay, however, said that the military’s statement has no credibility if the victims were tortured.

“We have no doubt the spin doctors in the military will use this opportunity to forward their deluded narrative, even at the expense of torturing women! This is a shameful act that truly exposes the atrocities of the military and the police. All of those involved should immediately be held accountable,” Palabay said.

Karapatan demanded the release of the four women. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘Mababang tingin ni Duterte sa kababaihan’

“Ayaw namin kay Duterte dahil sa hindi maganda at mababa niyang pagtingin sa kababaihan.”—Gert Libang, Vice-Chairperson, Gabriela

#BabaeAko to hold AMaSONA protest on July 23

By April Burcer

The #BabaeAko campaign announced a protest march on July 23 dubbed AMaSONA (Anti-Misogyny Activists sa SONA) to declare their stand against sexism, misogyny and other acts of injustices.

The announcement was made by a panel composed of Jean Enriquez of World March of Women, actor Mae Paner, Norma Dollaga of Association of Women in Theology, Gert Libang of Gabriela and Anelle Sabanal of Christians for Life and Dignity at a press conference in Bantayog ng mga Bayani Friday morning.

The panel shared women’s issues including the effect of the government’s cancellation of the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines on women, prostitution, attacks and harassment on activist women, price increases and the suffering of women the ongoing extra-judicial killings.

The #BabaeAko movement, which started as a social media campaign to denounce attacks and abuses against women they said are led by President Rodrigo Duterte himself.

The campaign launched in May has since grown to become one of the most influential people on the internet according to a recent Time Magazine article.

Senator Leila de Lima, jailed by the Duterte government in what many say is an act of vengeance, expressed her support to the movement.

“To my fellow #AMaSONA, as women and leaders, we have a lot on our plate –not just in the fight against misogyny, but also in addressing other issues of today,” de Lima said in a statement read at the forum.

“I am calling not only on the women but also to the Filipino people who value our freedom and democracy to stand against these attacks and to help our fellow citizens who were tricked into believing Duterte’s lies,” her message read.

The AMaSONA march will join the United People’s SONA on the day of President Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address. #

Human rights groups slam woman’s strip search

By April Burcer

Various human rights groups are calling for the investigation of the reported strip search of a female drug suspect in a police station in Makati City that went viral last week.

Gabriela and Karapatan released separate statements condemning the act as despicable, cruel and degrading.

“What the Makati Police did to the arrested drug suspects was despicable, including the act of doing a strip search on a woman and having her bend over in front of the male and female police officers. This is another case of abuse of police authority to trample upon the rights of the oppressed,” Gabriela said.

Karapatan also said that the superiors of those involved “should be investigated as well to look into their accountability, considering the principle of command responsibility under the said law.”

Both groups are calling for the investigation of the incident and to hold the involved police officers accountable, and should be meted out with punishment under the Anti-Torture Law.

Makati City police chief Rogelio Simon, however, claimed that the video was just a demo and that the drug suspect involved consented to the procedure because of monetary benefits.

The Commission on Human Rights also launched its own investigation of the case and categorizes this as a form of psychological torture, which is prohibited under Republic Act (RA) No. 9745 or the Anti-Torture Act signed in 2009.

Culture of torture

The incident was not an isolated case according to Karapatan as the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in Central Visayas (PDEA-7) also conducted strip searches of drug suspects during its so-called Greyhound operations in jail facilities in the region in May 2017.

“Despite these previous incidents, the practice continues. It is lamentable and infuriating that strip search is considered as “standard operating procedure” by the Philippine National Police and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP),” Karapatan’s statement said.

The practice should have been deemed illegal because of the Anti-Torture Law but authorities think that such acts are justifiable as long as they do it according to the guidelines and manual of operations, the group added.

Gabriela, on the other hand, blames this culture of “disrespect  and disregard of women’s rights” on President Rodrigo Duterte, ading  “it is not surprising that the fascist and anti-women culture among the police and the military also increases. “

In fact, even with the Anti-Torture Law, Karapatan has documented 248 victims of torture under the Benigno S. Aquino III administration and 94 victims of torture within the two years of the Duterte regime.

Gabriela is also appealing to other women who were victims of police abuse to come out and reveal whatever human rights injustices they have suffered in the hands of the police and military. #