Home Opinion Featured Articles Addressing Menstrual Hygiene Challenges for Rural Girls

Addressing Menstrual Hygiene Challenges for Rural Girls

Costly ‘period’ – making menstrual hygiene attractive to rural girls

Menstrual Health Management

Discarded exercise books, tissue, and abandoned pieces of clothes sourced from dressmakers are precious products for many underprivileged girls in rural communities for maintaining a degree of menstrual hygiene.

In the absence of disposable sanitary pads, which is expensive for rural girls whose parents’ daily income cannot afford the “luxurious” product, resorting to unhygienic methods is not an option but necessity.

These were some of the accounts that emerged from focused group discussions with girls, parents, and pupils in underserved communities in the Central, Ashanti, Eastern, and Greater Accra regions as part of menstrual hygiene advocacy campaign championed by the AABRYT Foundation.

“I wish I was like my brothers who are able to go to school every day of the month. I feel very uncomfortable during my period and ashamed to sit in class at that time of the month,” notes from some of the discussions indicated.

Ms Akosua Adutwumwaa Britwum, a seasoned broadcast journalist, who is leading the project to distribute free sanitary pads to selected schools, described her experience of the situation on the ground as chilling.

“The situation is serious than we discuss in the media. Our girls in the rural areas and even some communities within Accra are really suffering. Aside missing school, these girls are also exposing themselves to health complications by using inappropriate methods,” she told the Ghana News Agency.

“I was traumatised when some of the girls revealed to us that they sometimes use cement papers when they do not get tissue. That was the lowest point they could go and they have no other option,” she added.

Menstruation or period is a biological phenomenon naturally occurring in females. It basically involves vaginal bleeding that occurs as part of a woman’s cycle.

According to the UNFPA Ghana, women in societies with extreme poverty levels and harmful cultural beliefs and practices suffer discrimination and ill-treatment – and the situation gets worse due to the inability of those women to access products like sanitary pads to observe personal hygiene when menstruating.

Sanitary pads are largely imported in Ghana, with a 20 per cent import tax. The tax, coupled with the depreciation of the Cedi against the Dollar, makes the product expensive.

Although the Government has scrapped taxes on local production of sanitary pads, the local production is unable to meet demand, paving way for excessive reliance on the imported products.

Between January 2022 and February 2023 alone, the cost of imported sanitary pad increased from about GH¢5 to GH¢17 due to inflation.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), one in 10 girls in sub-saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual period, an equivalent of about 20 per cent in a given school year.

Touched by the chilling experiences of rural girls in their menstrual journey, Ms Britwum, with the support of benevolent contributors, commenced the sanitary pad distribution and advocacy project in October 2023.

She told the GNA that the project had thus far distributed more than 6,000 pieces of sanitary pads to the beneficiaries, adding that the team had also adopted some schools that received sanitary pads to support girls with severe conditions.

“The girls need more than the pads. Their teachers are doing their best but the education is not enough. Some of these communities have strong traditional belief systems and as such may conflict with the use of sanitary pads since education on such is inadequate in the said communities,” she said.

“One of the key challenges we faced is the poor road network. Some of the roads to the communities are not motorable and that hampers our ability to broaden advocacy to many more communities,” Ms Britwum added.

The Foundation appeals to authorities to roll out a policy that would target the distribution of free sanitary pads to girls in schools in underserved communities to enhance the observance of menstrual hygiene in those communities.

It also reiterated the need to scrap taxes on sanitary pads and encourage mass local production to make the product affordable.

“If we educate the girls on the need to use sanitary pads and they cannot afford it, the education would be meaningless. Their ability to afford the product also reduces their reliance on men, some of whom would take advantage of them,” she said.

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