No. 1035-23

no. 021-01-1100/2023-02 date: August 4, 2023



Siniša Mali, Minister


11000 Belgrade

Kneza Miloša 20



Subject: The VAT exemption initiative to exempt products used for feminine hygiene

Dear Mr. Mali,

The provisions of Article 23, Paragraph 1, of the Law on Value Added Tax[1], stipulate that the general value-added tax rate for taxable turnover of goods and services or import of goods is 20%, while the provisions of Paragraph 2 of the same article prescribe that certain products and services are taxed at a special value-added tax rate of 10%. On the other hand, tax exemptions are prescribed in this Law by provisions of Arts. 24-26.

However, by analyzing these provisions, it can be concluded that in accordance with the Law on Value Added Tax, as well as the Rulebook on Value Added Tax[2], feminine hygiene products are not tax-exempt or subject to a lower tax rate but are subject to a tax rate of 20%. Therefore, after the analysis of these regulations, and starting from the law-prescribed competencies, the Commissioner for the Protection of Equality refers to the Ministry of Finance the initiative for this Ministry to consider exempting products used for feminine hygiene (pads, tampons, etc.) from payment of value added tax (hereinafter: VAT). Namely, in the following text of the initiative, we will present arguments for consideration of this initiative.

According to the data of the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia (RZS)[3], the estimated number of inhabitants in the Republic of Serbia in 2022 is 6,664,449. Observed by gender, 51.4% are women (3,423,627), and 48.6% are men (3,240,822). In more detail, about 14.4% of the total number is the population up to the age of 14, about 63.6% is the population between 15-64 years of age, and 22% are people 65 years old and older[4]. These data show that menstruation “affects” more than a third of our society, just like the European and world population.

However, women who are or will be menstruating do not always have the appropriate and necessary information and the financial means to behave during this period safely and healthily. Insufficient income and other, always more important expenses, make the purchase of feminine hygiene products during menstruation a financial burden for women and make them an economically vulnerable population. This particularly affects multiple marginalized and otherwise vulnerable social groups, such as poor citizens, people with disabilities, Roma women, etc. It should also be borne in mind that the wage gap between women and men in Serbia is officially 8.8 percent, although there is data that this difference is greater (11 percent), especially when it comes to some segments of the economy. Indeed, this statistic ranks us among the countries with the lowest salary differences in Europe, but it still means that a woman in Serbia must work an average of 35 days longer to earn the salary of a man with the same characteristics in the labor market. If we add unpaid and invisible work in the household, balancing work and parenting, and the problem of violence against women, we will understand that women are still in an unequal position and that it is necessary to improve their position in all segments, including the one to which the initiative refers.

The impossibility of allocating the financial resources needed for these purposes (pads, tampons, cups, or medicines to relieve menstrual pain) leads to the so-called “menstrual poverty”. Available data show that more than 500 million women in the world live in menstrual poverty. Menstrual poverty puts women in an unequal position compared to men because they miss school and work due to aggravated possibilities to afford menstrual products, which has consequences for their education and economic conditions. According to a survey conducted by the BBC[5] as recently as 2018, women in the UK spend an average of £5,000 on hygiene products alone. In Serbia, according to data from the Independent Research Center from Novi Sad, Gender Knowledge Hub, from October 2022, it was necessary to set aside about 8,300 dinars per year just for the necessary hygiene products during menstruation. After analyzing the financial resources that need to be allocated and their impact on the increase in menstrual poverty, in some countries in Europe and the region, VAT on these products has been reduced, and in some countries, it has been abolished. In some countries, these products are free and available in public places. Several faculties in Serbia that provide free sanitary pads for their female students and employees are a good example. The issue of the availability of products used for feminine hygiene during menstruation, as well as other basic products for maintaining personal hygiene, is much more complex than individual measures. However, reducing the tax rate would certainly positively affect the greater accessibility or availability of these products even to the poorest citizens.

In the Republic of Serbia, a comprehensive survey on the prevalence of menstrual poverty has not yet been conducted. However, there were individual polls, such as a survey that was conducted at the Faculty of Novi Sad, where 13 percent of female students stated that they had to choose between these products and basic life needs. Namely, the Women’s Initiative surveyed female students of the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad, and out of 1,205 girls, 69 percent answered the question “How do you feel about it?” regarding the average price of menstrual products with “bad”, 29 percent were “indifferent”, and one percent of respondents stated that they felt “good”. This survey showed that products for feminine hygiene during menstruation are not cheap and accessible to everyone. Researchers speak of similar findings carried out in the region, where in some countries, as already mentioned, the VAT rate on products for women’s hygiene during menstruation was reduced (13% in Croatia, 9.5% in Slovenia). This reduction in VAT was preceded by research that showed that, for example, a third of respondents were forced to save on pads because they were too expensive, more than 10% of female citizens were not able to buy enough pads to change them, and 11.9% of them stated that they could not afford these products, as well as medicines to relieve menstrual pain[6].

Both in Europe and globally, the process of solving the problem of menstrual poverty, which, among other things, implies the inability of girls and women to afford basic hygiene products, has been ongoing for years. In June 2021, the Parliament of the European Union adopted the Resolution on the situation of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the EU, in the framework of women’s health (2020/2215(INI))[7]. The Commissioner pointed to this resolution in its regular annual report on the situation in the field of equality protection for 2022[8]. Member countries are invited to produce healthy menstrual hygiene products (free from certain toxins that were used in production) and to eliminate the “tampon tax”, that is, to exempt completely these products from VAT. Thus, Scotland went a step further in preserving the health of its female citizens and became the first country in the world to adopt a law by which sanitary pads and tampons become free for everyone. They also prescribed that all educational and public institutions must publicly make these products available.

The data of the Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia also supports the necessity of introducing a measure of exemption from VAT payment on hygiene products for women. Namely, in 2021, the rate of risk of poverty was 21.2%, and the rate of risk of poverty and social exclusion was 28.5%. The rate of the risk of poverty represents the percentage of persons whose available equivalent income is lower than the threshold of the risk of poverty, which in 2021 was 24,064 dinars on average per month for a one-person household. This rate does not show how many people are poor but how many have an income below the poverty risk threshold[9]. The poverty risk threshold for a household with two adults and one child under the age of 14 was 43,315 dinars, while for a four-member household with two adults and two children under the age of 14, it was 50,533 dinars. Given that feminine hygiene products during menstruation are taxed at a VAT rate of 20%, they, although a basic necessity, become a luxury. Also, data but the aforementioned Gender Knowledge Hub[10] show that in the period from May to October last year, the price of these products about 33%.

The Commissioner also points out that the Public Health Strategy in the Republic of Serbia from 2018-2026 supports the improvement of health, disease prevention, and prolongation of the quality of life of the population, and stipulates, as a specific goal, among other things, the implementation and monitoring of the National Program for the preservation and improvement of the sexual and reproductive health of the citizens of the Republic of Serbia, adopted in 2017. Family planning, pregnancy maintenance, and other health care services are critical to the entire society, and safe pregnancies and births depend on functional health systems and the availability of health and other relevant services. In particular, when it comes to younger generations, educational programs related to the early development of children and young people are of great importance, and maintenance of menstrual hygiene must be available to every girl from the moment she gets her period, as well as comprehensive and complete information in this regard. It is also worth emphasizing that this approach to a topic that is often uncomfortable and undesirable in public discourse contributes to building a positive and supportive environment that enables menstruating women to participate in all social, professional, educational, and other activities, as well as to increasing visibility and recognition of menstrual cycle disorders and their adequate treatment.

Products for women’s hygiene during menstruation are a necessity in the lives of girls and women and a basic need conditioned by their gender characteristics. The Commissioner believes that the reduction or exemption from paying VAT on hygiene products for women, among other things, would contribute to the improvement of the sexual and reproductive health of girls and women, as well as to the reduction of poverty, which is why these products should be equally available to everyone, regardless of the financial status of the person and/or family.

Bearing in mind all the above, in accordance with Article 33, Paragraph 1, Item 7 of the Law on Prohibition of Discrimination, the Commissioner sends the Ministry of Finance an initiative to consider exempting from VAT or at least reducing the VAT rate on these products, which are necessary to every woman in a certain period of life, and which, especially in situations where the family has more female members, additionally and excessively burden the budget and leave less money for meeting other basic needs.

[1] “Official Gazette of RS”, no. 84/04, 86/04 – corrected, 61/05, 61/07, 93/12, 108/13, 6/14 – harmonized rsd amt., 68/14 – other law, 142/14, 5/15 – harmonized rsd amt., 83/15, 5/16 – harmonized rsd amt., 108/16, 7/17 – harmonized rsd amt., 113/17, 13/18 – harmonized rsd amt., 30/18, 4/19 – harmonized rsd amt., 72/19, 8/20 – harmonized rsd amt., 153/20 and 138/22.

[2] “Official Gazette of RS”, no. 37 of April 14, 2021, 64 of June 25, 2021, 127 of December 24, 2021, 49 of April 21, 2022, 59 of May 20, 2022, 7 of January 31, 2023, 15 of February 24, 2023, 60 of July 21, 2023.



[5], information from 2018





[10] Gender Knowledge Hub (GKH)


Brankica Janković


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