Menstruation is still seen as an embarrassing, shameful, and dirty process in most parts of the world, especially Africa. There are many taboos around this natural phenomenon which leave most adolescent girls unprepared for their periods and misinformed on how to manage them. This promotes the practice of unsafe menstrual hygiene practices which may lead to ill health. There is a need for both men and women to have greater awareness of good menstrual hygiene practices as this is vital to the health, well-being, self-worth, empowerment, mobility and productivity of women and girls.
Sadly, the realization of quality education for both boys and girls is a problem in most developing countries including Ghana. Some barriers to girls’ school attendance, participation, and retention have been identified as cultural expectations, early pregnancy and marriage, household responsibilities and the prioritization of boys’ education.
The school environment also tends to contribute to these barriers to the education of girls. Some deficits in the school environment that discourage girls from attending and participating in school activities include lack of female teachers, sanitation and hygiene facilities, and gender-based violence. Menstruation has emerged as an additional barrier to school attendance and active participation amongst adolescent girls. Some effects of poor menstrual hygiene management (MHM) on the education of adolescent girls include school absenteeism, distraction and increased school drop-out rates.
For the practice of effective menstrual hygiene , girls require access to clean absorbents (for example, sanitary pads, tampons, menstrual cups) with facilities that provide them with the needed privacy to change, clean or dispose of these absorbents when necessary, and access to soap and water for cleaning their bodies and reusable absorbents. Unfortunately, studies across low and middle income countries have reported that more than 50% of girls have inadequate MHM, with higher proportions reported in rural areas. More than half of girls in lower- and middle-income countries lack access to basic menstrual hygiene needs such as sanitary pads, soap and water, or lavatories to change, clean, or dispose of these absorbents.
Due to the increasing cost of sanitary towels, some girls; especially those in rural areas and from economically disadvantaged backgrounds resort to using absorbents such as dirty rags, cotton wool, leaves and paper. Aside the fact that the neatness of these absorbents cannot be guaranteed and could cause diseases and infections to girls, most often they leak and soil their uniforms. The embarrassment girls face as a result of soiling their uniforms during their periods causes them to miss school.
Research carried out in Ghana and Kenya, has revealed that interventions providing sanitary pads and education, or materials and education for girls to make their own pads improve school attendance. Kenya has gone ahead to provide free sanitary towels for girls to encourage school attendance during their periods and remove menstruation as a barrier to their girl child education. One may ask; will Ghana go ahead to do same?
Presently 20% tax levy is charged on imported sanitary towels because sanitary pads are categorized as luxury products at the Ghana Revenue Authority guidelines. Is this commodity that is a necessity to a woman’s livelihood, engagement and participation in society really just luxury? It is the right of every girl to be informed and have access to menstruation supplies. Some organizations in Ghana have resorted to pad donations to girls; especially those in deprived societies as a way to encourage girls’ attendance and participation in school activities during their menses. However, statistics have shown that the average woman can use up to 10,500 disposable sanitary pads or more in her lifetime. This reveals then that pad donations are just but a temporal solution to removing this barrier to education.
Call to Action for Ghana
Once and for all, a lasting solution must be resorted to by removing or drastically reducing the 20% import tax on sanitary towels in Ghana in order to make that essential product available and affordable for all girls from regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds. Today is being observed globally as the International Day of the Girl Child under the theme: ‘’With Her; a skilled GirlForce’’. The focus of this year’s theme is on securing viable employment opportunities for adolescent girls set to enter the workforce within the next decade. If girls’ JI’s Happy School Girl Project aims resonates with this theme in this sense that if girls’ participation and retention in school is hindered because of menstruation, it pre-supposes that they cannot acquire the soft skills needed to become a useful workforce to any country. On this special day, it would be most appropriate that the government would consider reviewing tax on sanitary pads to ensure an enhancement in the Ghanaian girls’ health and in the education.