The campaign to lower or eliminate taxes on menstrual products in Kosovo gains momentum as activists seek to combat period poverty and promote gender equality.
“I vividly remember the time when we wouldn’t have menstruation pads, it was not so long time ago”, says Lule, who bravely shares her story, and vividly recalls a time not too long ago when menstrual pads were scarce and they had to make pads from old clothes.
In 2022 alone, women and menstruating individuals in Kosovo paid over 540,000 euros in VAT for period pads.
“It was a difficult time because our skin would get irritated, and we would often experience infections,” says Lule, who prefers to be identified by her first name to openly discuss the subject. “Even now, distant cousins who still live in the village probably continue to use makeshift pads due to limited financial means,” she adds.
Importing period pads on a large scale only became common in Kosovo after the war. Prior to that, many women resorted to using old clothes to create makeshift pads, a practice that persists today. However, even those who can afford to buy pads must contend with an additional 18 percent value-added tax (VAT) since these products are deemed non-essential by the tax authority.
The concept of “period poverty” – the lack of access to pads or tampons due to financial constraints – has been widely discussed in many countries. However, it has only recently entered the discourse in Kosovo, where the taboo surrounding menstruation has barricaded the search for viable solutions.
In 2022 alone, women and menstruating individuals in Kosovo paid over 540,000 euros in VAT for period pads. By the first half of 2023, this figure had already surpassed 220,000 euros. The NGO QIKA, dedicated to women’s rights, has spearheaded awareness efforts and launched the online petition urging the government to abolish the tax.
It was the NGO for women’s rights, QIKA, that raised awareness about the issue and started an online petition that invites the government to remove the tax.
Addressing Period Poverty
QIKA, operating under the acronym for the Center for Information, Criticism, and Action, asserts that many Kosovar women cannot afford menstrual products due to financial constraints, resulting in their ‘forced use of unsafe materials during their menstrual cycles’.
The petition calls for the taxation of menstrual products to be aligned with that of essential goods, such as bread, at a rate of 8 percent, or for the tax to be completely abolished.
Reproductive health is a matter of public health
“Since we opened the organization, we have planned to develop a one-week campaign every year through which we fight against stigma and menstrual poverty. The campaign ends on May 28 which is Menstrual Hygiene Day”, Riola Morina, researcher at QIKA told Prishtina Insight.
“QIKA believes that reproductive health is a matter of public health, that’s why we have decided to launch our online request to remove the tax. When we reach 10,000 signatures, we will send it as a request to the deputies or to responsible ministries,” Morina added.
So far, this petition has reached over 7,000 signatures.
“It has been very surprising for good, not only for the removal of the tax but the break of the stigma as well, because the very fact that such a topic is being discussed at this level is quite welcome for us”, she expressed.
In addition to sharing the petition through social networks, QIKA has placed stickers around the city to provide citizens with the opportunity to sign the petition by scanning them with their phones. This inclusive approach allows individuals not directly affected by the issue to contribute to the cause.
Institutions Lagging Behind
Neither the Parliament nor the Government of Kosovo have made official statements on this topic. Prishtina Insight reached out to 22 MPs asking about their stance on reducing or eliminating the tax, but only three have responded.
This decision remains in the hands of the government
Jehona Lushaku, president of the Women’s Forum in the opposition party LDK, has confirmed that she has signed this petition.
“I have personally signed that petition and I think that taking a decision on that matter is one of the first things that can be done without any problem. If we start to govern, this will be one of the first measures we will take,” Lushaku stated. “This is an essential product and it is unreasonable that there is a tax of 18 per cent […] We appeal to the government and any authorized minister to take this decision as soon as possible,” Lushaku added.
Another member of the opposition who has declared that she supports this initiative is Albana Bytyqi from the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, AAK. In a statement for Prishtina Insight, Bytyqi affirmed that she supports this initiative and that she has discussed this topic with MPs from the other two opposition parties, Democratic Party of Kosovo, PDK and LDK.
“We have discussed this topic with PDK and LDK, and soon we will come out with a statement. We definitely support this initiative. The government should have taken this decision earlier, but we can see that it is neglecting issues related to gender equality”, Bytyqi said.
“Regardless of what we as an opposition want, this decision remains in the hands of the government”, she added.
On the other hand, MP of the governing Vetëvendosje Movement, Yllza Hoti, has affirmed that she supports this petition, however she has emphasized that it should be taken into account if the Kosovo government has enough budget to make a decision on the reduction or removal of the period products tax.
“Of course I agree that we need to make it as easy as possible for women and girls to access menstrual products. However, I think that the possibilities of the government should also be taken into account, given the budget it has, these things should be addressed”, she said.
The Path to Alleviating Period Poverty
The average Kosovar family spends approximately 10.3 euros per month on period products
According to a report by BIRN in August 2022, the average Kosovar family spends approximately 10.3 euros per month on period products, which poses a burden for many families, especially considering the low official employment rate for women at just 14 percent.
Data from the Kosovo Statistics Agency, last updated in 2017, indicates that around 18 percent of the population in Kosovo lives in poverty, with 5 percent living in extreme poverty. A 2020 study from the same agency revealed that almost 60 percent of families in Kosovo would be unable to cover an unexpected additional expense of 100 euros, highlighting the ongoing economic challenges faced by many families.
Several countries have taken steps to address this issue. Scotland became the first country to provide free period products for all, mandating local authorities to ensure accessibility for those in need since November 2020. Countries like Canada, Australia, South Africa, and India have also eliminated taxes on menstrual products in recent years. The “tampon tax” in Britain was abolished as of January 1, 2021.
While it remains to be seen whether the tax on period products in Kosovo will be removed, the QIKA NGO has initiated the distribution of free period pads in schools, universities, dormitories, and cafeterias as part of their “Pads are not a luxury” campaign.