Rags as Pads: A kayayoo’s menstrual flow reality

BY: Liz Naa Aku Allotey-Annan, Dora Naa Ayorkor Annan & Muna Zakariya Mohammed
Our reporter (right) with Sauda the head porter
Our reporter (right) with Sauda the head porter

Experiencing the first flow of blood marks the beginning of the journey to womanhood for every girl or young woman.

In the cities, where sanitary products and health experts are available for support, young women are expected to go through the ‘Period Journey’ smoothly.

But for those in deprived areas, the road for the ‘Period Journey’ has been roughed by abject poverty.

Salmata, Sauda and Zuwerira – three ‘kayayei’ (female head porters) at Madina – have been making their ‘Period Journey’ on that road.

Our reporter (left) with Salmata, the head porter

Our reporter (left) with Salmata, the head porter

Menstrual cycle calculations
The calculations of menstrual cycle for poor young women is not only about the dates of the month; more critically, it is also about the figures of the legal tender.

Every woman needs at least two packs of sanitary towels to manage their monthly flow, and at a cost of between GH¢11 and GH¢13, the total cost (GH¢22 – GH¢26) may be staggering for some of them.

Earning about Ghc50 daily, an income heavily consumed by meals, as well as the use of public bath houses and places of convenience, it is difficult for Salmata, Sauda and Zuwerira to buy the required quantity of sanitary products to manage their menstrual cycle.

According to Selorm Helen, the founder of Period Aid Project, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), in order to earn extra income to buy sanitary pads and safeguard their menstrual health, some girls in deprived areas indulge in prostitution.

But that sexual enterprise comes at a higher cost – teenage pregnancy, which is increasing in deprived areas.

The alternative to prostitution, which Salmata prefers, is the use of rag as sanitary towel.

“Sometimes we are able to buy one pack of pad and then use rag to absorb blood when it finishes,” she said.

Rag may come cheap but its cost may be much more than the price of sanitary towel, as pointed out by Zuwerira.

“I practice personal hygiene during my cycle but due to the use of rags in absorbing blood on some days, I develop bad smell and so I distance myself from people,” she explained.

Our reporter (right) with Zuwerira

Our reporter (right) with Zuwerira

Health implications
According to Dr Aaron Armah, a general medical doctor at the Koforidua Hospital, using unsterilized rags or clothes to manage menstrual cycle can lead to the contracting of urinary tract infections (UTI), pelvic inflammatory diseases (PID), bacteria vaginosis (BV) and sometimes foul smell from the vulva.

UTI is an infection that occurs at any part of the urinary system, that is, the kidneys, bladder or urethra.

It is normally associated with pelvic pains, increased urge to urinate, painful urination, blood in the urine, fatigue, fever, foul-smelling urine and vaginal irritation.

PID is an infection of the female reproductive system, which occurs through the spread of bacteria from the vagina to the womb, fallopian tubes or ovaries.

Common symptoms of PIDs are pelvic pain, fever and sometimes abnormal vaginal discharge, usually of a green or yellow colour.

BV is a bacterial overgrowth in the vagina which tends to affect women of childbearing age.

In some cases of BV, there are no symptoms but in other cases there may be some abnormal vaginal discharge, itching or odour.

Salmata, Sauda and Zuwerira claim they have been educated on how to manage their menstrual cycle but they do not seem to be well-informed about the health implications of using rag as sanitary towel, which include the aforementioned diseases, infections and conditions which may lead to infertility.

Dr Armah advised women to eat right during their menstrual cycle even when the hormonal imbalances in their system take away their appetite for food.

According to him, eating right and keeping the body clean during menstrual cycle would prevent infections and make women stronger.

Need for support
Every year, Ghana celebrates Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28 to help create more awareness on menstrual hygiene and reach out to young women in deprived areas.

Inasmuch as this initiative is laudable, the cost of sanitary pads beyond the means of many young women in deprived areas, is undermining that effort.

Currently, sanitary towels attract 20 per cent luxury tax and 12.5 per cent VAT.

These tax components tend to increase the price of sanitary products on the market, thus, making them unaffordable for young women in deprived areas.

Many of them rely on philanthropists and NGOs like Period Aid Project for support.

“It is disheartening that girls and young women in a country like Ghana have challenges with getting sanitary products,” Period Aid Project founder, Selorm, remarked.

She said Period Aid Project was committed to creating awareness on menstrual hygiene and make sanitary products more accessible to young women in deprived communities to end ‘period poverty’ by 2030.

‘Period poverty’ refers to the inability to afford sanitary products and hygienic facilities to help young women feel comfortable during their periods.

At a cost of between GH¢11 and GH¢13, poor young women like Salmata, Sauda and Zuwerira may feel ‘comfortable’ doing two things to manage their menstrual cycle: either use rag as sanitary towel, or indulge in prostitution for more cash to buy sanitary towels, health implications or not.

The writers are Level 400 Communication Studies students of Wisconsin International University College, Ghana