Only 12 percent of Indian women have access to sanitary products.

For most of her life, Kamal Rahirashi has had just enough to get by — and sometimes not even that. When her income was limited, a lot of personal needs took a backseat, including the need for personal hygiene and health products.

“We didn’t even get sanitary napkins in shops where I come from; but even if we did, I wouldn’t be able to afford them,” says Kamal, who was raised in a small hamlet about 120 kilometers from the metropolitan city of Mumbai. “It was something only the really privileged and rich women used.”

She hopes things will be different for her teenage daughter.

However, that’s unlikely. Last month, the Indian government rolled out a new tax plan — the Goods and Service Tax (GST) — labeling sanitary products “nonessential,” making them eligible for a 12 percent tax.

The increase in the cost of sanitary napkins has forced Kamal, 34, who is a house cleaner in Mumbai and already living on an extremely tight budget, to reconsider her family’s usage. At a rate of 8 rupees per pad (13 cents), and on a paltry salary of 10,000 rupees per month ($150), it’s not an easy expense to bear. “I will continue to provide for my daughter’s needs, but I will have to go back to using the cloth,” says a disappointed Kamal. Kamal has suffered from vaginal infections in the past that are caused by poor menstrual care.

Read full story on PRI – Across Women’s Lives