Constitutional Court of Colombia Invalidates Tax on Menstrual Hygiene Products, Requires Bogotá to Provide Supplies for Homeless Women

Mónica Arango Olaya (DPhil Student, Oxford) has a fantastic write-up of two recent decisions by the Colombian Constitutional Court:

In late 2018, the Court adopted Decision C-117 of 2018, holding that a provision imposing 5% VAT tax on tampons and sanitary pads violated women´s rights to equality, autonomy, and access to a minimum core standard of life. The petitioners had argued that the tax did not consider women’s economic ability to access essential goods that only they were obliged to use (given that there were no comparable alternative products in the market).

The Court recognized that there was a high margin of discretion for the legislature in tax law. Nonetheless, it could not infringe the principles of reasonableness and non-discrimination. The Court also affirmed that the tax violated the principle of “no taxation without representation”, as Congress never discussed why tampons and sanitary pads should be taxed, despite being irreplaceable goods used only by women. More importantly, it underscored two points. First, women´s ability to appear in and navigate public spaces, and participate in all the dimensions of public life, is necessarily contingent on access to sanitary pads and tampons. While the Court acknowledged the existence of alternatives like the cup and menstrual underwear, it also found that these options were effectively inaccessible for rural women, and indeed for the majority of women, who lived on the minimum wage. Effective access was thus held to be interrelated with the protection of other rights, such as the rights to health, education, autonomy and dignity. * **

More recently, building upon the previous case, the Court affirmed in Decision T-398 of 2019 that the city of Bogota had violated the rights to dignity, autonomy as well as the sexual and reproductive rights of a woman living on the streets, by not including in their policies the provision of sanitary pads. The Court found that women in vulnerable positions, with no knowledge of menstrual hygiene, had to look through trash cans to find products to manage their flow. This was a breach of the State´s positive duties to provide minimum goods for the most vulnerable.

The full post is here at the Oxford Human Rights Hub.

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