Ending Period Poverty: A Crucial Step Towards Achieving Gender Equality

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Gender Equality
Ophelia Allotey, Gender& Development Advocate/Community Paralegal/The Pad Project Ambassador

“Access to menstrual products is a vital need and a health care right for over half the population. It is also a human right”. Grace Meng (D-Queens).

Gender equality is a fundamental human right that is essential for a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world. Sadly, it is not enjoyed to the fullest by women and girls, despite significant progress made over the years.

International Day of the Girl Child is significantly observed globally on October 11, to highlight the unique challenges of girls and the importance of empowering them to reach their fullest potential and bridge the gender gap.

Women and girls around the world experience discrimination and gender disparities in areas such as employment, physical health, and safety from violence.

One aspect of gender inequality that is often overlooked is period poverty, a situation where women and girls particularly, cannot afford menstrual products or proper hygiene facilities leading to negative physical, emotional, and economic consequences.

Notwithstanding the fact that about half of the world’s population menstruates, some 500 million people have been left without access to menstrual hygiene products, leading to period poverty.

According to a report by United Nations Children’s Funds (UNICEF), 95 percent of girls living in rural communities in Ghana miss 20 percent of school because they do not have access to sanitary pads.

Period poverty is a multi-faceted issue that affects millions of individuals worldwide. It manifests in various ways, including the inability to purchase sanitary products, limited access to clean and private facilities for menstruating women and girls, and a lack of education about menstruation.

The World Bank has estimated that 11.5 million women and girls in Ghana lack hygiene management facilities that aid in healthy menstrual hygiene management.

These challenges contribute to a cycle of disadvantage, reinforcing existing gender inequalities. Addressing period poverty is not only a matter of basic human dignity but also a crucial step towards achieving gender equality and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on quality education.

Despite increased attention on gender-related issues amongst governments, policymakers, and the public, investments in girls’ rights remain limited, disproportionately affecting them.

Some policies by governments such as the taxes on sanitary pads equally compound the plights of these women and girls, a situation the Right Honorable Speaker of Parliament, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, describes as “unconscionable and a cardinal sin.”

For many girls of school-going ages, getting their periods automatically brings a stop to their social lives, while the high cost of this essential product (sanitary towels) is also pushing many vulnerable girls into unhealthy relationships, and others become victims of sexual exploitation. A phenomenon that is increasing teenage pregnancy rate, and subsequent school drop-out among girls.

The theme for the commemoration Invest in Girls’ Rights: Our Leadership, Our Well-being is a true representation and the collective voices of women and girls worldwide. “Indeed, now is the time to turn the tides around on the killer taxes imposed on sanitary products, which is robbing girls of their educational rights, their well-being, and future”.

Period poverty should as a matter of urgency be considered a public health crisis and a human rights concern, and an impediment to achieving SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities). There is a crucial need for Policies and initiatives aimed at closing the gender gap and providing an enabling environment for women and girls to thrive.

I call on the Vice President of the Republic of Ghana, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia to remember his promise to the women and girls in Ghana three years ago (August 22, 2020) that the New Patriotic Party (NPP) on winning the election, will remove the import duties on sanitary pads to make it very affordable.

I would also like to draw the attention of Hon. Lariba Zuweira Abudu- Minister for Gender, Children, and Social Protection – (MoGCSP), to the goal of her esteemed Ministry which is to promote an integrated society that offers equal opportunity for both men and women and safeguards the rights of children and empower the vulnerable, excluded, the aged and persons with disabilities by social protection interventions to contribute to national development.

Why then are women and girls being discriminated against because of their gender, which is a clear violation of Article 17 of the 1992 Constitution?

Imposing taxes on sanitary pads is not the protection the Ministry and the Constitution offered girls, women, and the vulnerable.

This human rights issue is not only in contrast to our national laws but also against various international laws and treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on Rights of Children, and Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights among others.

I call on all 275 Members of Parliament (MPs) to defend the interests and concerns of the women and children in their Constituencies- “Taxes on sanitary pads must go”. I entreat the various Civil Society Organizations, NGOs, and well-meaning Ghanaians to join the advocacy to end period poverty now!

It is achievable and Ghana can! Congratulations to Kenya for going down in history and winning global praise as the first country in the world to remove the tax on imports of sanitary products in 2004.

It is admirable to also see other countries like Australia, India, Canada, Jamaica, Nigeria, Lebanon, Malaysia, Colombia, South Africa, Namibia, Rwanda, and Nicaragua, putting in measures to remove taxes on “period products”, to bring relief to their women and girls. I look forward to writing a congratulatory piece on Ghana’s success in this regard.

Ending period poverty is not only a matter of improving menstrual health but also a crucial step towards achieving gender equality.

“Now more than ever, we must renew our commitment to work together so that girls enjoy and exercise their rights and can play a full and equal part in their communities and societies. Investing in girls is investing in our common future.” UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

 

Ophelia Allotey

Gender& Development Advocate/Community Paralegal/The Pad Project Ambassador

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