1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Turkey: 'Sanitary products are not a luxury'

January 23, 2022

For months, the "Campus Witches" of Turkey have protested against the rising cost of sanitary products, which they say should be free. For many of their compatriots, the subject of menstruation remains taboo.

A group of "Campus Witches" wearing pink witch's hats
The "Campus Witches" demand free sanitary productsImage: Kampüs Cadıları

In the middle of January, some 20 students protested in front of the tax office in the western Turkish port city of Izmir. Holding up two sets of oversized women's underpants with red stains, they chanted: "We cannot buy sanitary pads anymore, we cannot even afford two meals a day."      

They were part of the "Campus Witches” movement that campaigns for the rights of girls and women, mainly in universities and other establishments of higher education. They were wearing the pink and purple witch's hats that have become their trademark.

In recent months, they have particularly campaigned against the drastic rise of the cost of sanitary products and called for the 18% tax on such items to be abolished. They say that since menstruation is natural, sanitary products are not a luxury but essential.

Therefore, they think they should be provided for free by the state. In the meantime, they have stepped up initiatives such as solidarity boxes in women's toilets and other public spaces where people can donate tampons and pads for those who cannot afford them.

'I can only afford the cheapest products'

Leylanur Mavili, a student at the University of Ankara, complained that the money in her purse was losing value every month. She said that she needed 20 to 25 pads per month but could no longer afford anything but the cheapest products. "Brand products cost about 50 Turkish lira," she said. That is the equivalent of €3.30.

Law student Zeynep Kurt, who is also at the University of Ankara, told the Turkish ANKA news agency that it had become very difficult to make do: "I have a grant of 800 lira per month and 50 of those go for sanitary pads."

She also complained that sanitary products were hidden in black bags, as if women had to be ashamed of having their period. On top of that they were not available everywhere.

A woman holding up a tampon
Many women argue that tampons and sanitary pads are essential itemsImage: Sebastian Kahnert/dpa/picture alliance

Rising costs of gas and electricity

The ongoing Turkish lira crisis has caused many everyday products to rise in cost. According to official figures,inflation rose to over 36% in December, hitting a 19-year high. The price of gas and electricity rose by 50% for households at the beginning of January and by over 100% for companies.

A majority of the population is suffering. Many are struggling to cover the costs of essential items; some cannot afford even these. In Ankara and Istanbul, the queues for subsidized bread are getting longer. More and more people, particularly the elderly, can be seen at markets at the end of the day searching the ground and garbage containers for fruit and vegetables that are still edible.

In certain supermarkets, everyday products such as baby food, coffee and cheese are even kept under lock to deter potential thieves.

According to the Turkish Statistical Institute, sanitary pads got 50% more expensive over the past year. After conducting a survey of over 100 families, Turkish NGO Deep Poverty Network, said that 82% of people could not afford sanitary products.

Istanbul women protest violence

Menstruation remains a taboo subject

Irmak Sarac, a gynecologist and honorary member of the Turkish Medical Association, told ANKA that conditions for female seasonal agricultural laborers was untenable. "We are hearing that women are taking leaves and putting clean earth on them to absorb their menstrual blood," she said. She too was of the opinion that the state should provide sanitary products for free.

For many, menstruation remains a taboo subject in Turkey. Therefore, the courage of those women drawing attention to the issue and campaigning for free sanitary products is all the more remarkable.

As poverty continues to increase in Turkey, the government is coming under fire, including Derya Yanik, the minister of family and social services. At a recent press conference, she admitted that she had received complaints about the rising price of diapers, adding that she thought it was necessary to address the issue more intensively.

It is yet to be seen whether the 18% tax on sanitary products will be abolished or whether the articles will be provided for free.

However, the "Campus Witches" are determined to continue their fight, not only in Izmir, but all over the country. "We are not responsible for the economic crisis. We do not want to bear the consequences," they say. "Pads and tampons are not a luxury, they are essential."

This article was translated from German.


Elmas Topcu, sitting next to a bookcase full of books
Elmas Topcu Stories on Turkey, German-Turkish relations and political and religious groups linked to Turkey.@topcuelmas