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A taboo topic comes into the limelight!

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari
Sanitary pads should be cheap
Sanitary pads should be cheap

Listening to Vice-President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia as he presented the highlights of the New Patriotic Party Manifesto for Election 2020 a week ago, among the far-sighted initiatives they will implement if they win, three immediately caught my attention.

The proposals also prompted my applause.

One is the National Rent Assistance Scheme to provide a rent-advance bridge between would-be tenants and landlords. Another is the removal of the guarantor requirement for tertiary students applying for loans to fund their education.

Only their Ghana Card would be required.

The third, long-overdue and extremely stimulating, is the proposal to remove the taxes on sanitary pads to make more affordable this extremely essential item for women.

Over the years, some of us have added our modest support to calls for a realistic approach to the menstrual challenges especially of adolescent girls and school girls.

Availability of sanitary pads or sanitary towels has long been a priority of campaigners.

However, seemingly our decision-makers have not seen such hygiene products for women as important.

Yet, UNICEF estimates that each year roughly one in 10 girls in Africa miss school because of their periods.

Again, according to UNICEF, in Ghana, 95 percent of girls sometimes miss school due to menstruation.

Thus, menstruation is a major barrier to girls’ attendance at school due to a lack of facilities and other factors.

At the Manifesto launch at the University of Cape Coast, the Vice-President stated: “While supporting the private sector to ramp up production locally, we will eliminate duties on sanitary pads to improve health conditions, particularly for girls.”

To me it was a reflection of the “for all” in the theme of the event, ‘Leadership of service: Protecting our progress, transforming Ghana for all’.

What was practically a taboo subject is now in a manifesto, thus in the limelight!

However, much as the promise excited me, my immediate question was whether the initiative would enable women all over the country, notably in the rural areas, to have access to hygienic methods during their monthly flow.

Would cheaper sanitary pads necessarily be a boon to all women – or only urban women?

My excitement over this particular manifesto promise was also prompted by the fact that it’s a subject I have been writing about.

The following are abridged versions of two previous columns.

A 2014 COLUMN:
Menstruation is still a taboo subject in public discourse, but it appears that this is more or less a worldwide phenomenon.

The April 25 issue of this paper featured a school drop-out in rural India who is championing the cause of women in a remarkable way.

As originally told in the BBC Magazine under the headline, ‘The Indian sanitary pad revolutionary’ Arunachalam Muruganantham, “revolutionised menstrual health for rural women in developing countries by inventing a simple machine they can use to make cheap sanitary pads”.

Poverty had compelled Muruganantham to drop out of school at age 14.

When he got married, he identified a chronic problem encountered every month by his wife and other women too poor to afford sanitary pads: finding appropriate substitutes to use during their menses or period.

Mr Muruganantham took the unprecedented decision to help by making affordable sanitary pads himself.

Using his knowledge of the handloom, four-and-a-half years later; he created his first sanitary pad- making machine.

Eventually, patronage of his machines increased with clients in 1,300 villages in 23 states. “Each machine converts 3,000 women to pad usage, and provides employment for 10.”

Surely, the Muruganantham story has lessons for us here in Ghana?
(Column of May 2, 2014, ‘Salute to a singular man in a distant country.)

A 2016 COLUMN:
The Spectator of July 2 reported that a project to reduce the high rate of absenteeism from school has been launched at Dagomba D/A Basic School in the Sekyere Afram Plains District of the Ashanti Region.

The programme is a collaboration with World of Children and Procter and Gamble.

It will help girls to remain in school and complete their education by providing them with sanitary supplies.

Some 1,000 girls will benefit from the project over the next six months.

Ms Winifred Kyei Selby, president and founder of the programme, said that their “ultimate goal is use the programme to spark change”, for the Government to adopt policies such as removing the sales tax on menstrual products to make them cheaper and available to girls of school going age (emphasis added).

(Column of July 8, 2016, ‘The glaring truth that some refuse to see.)
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I think that apart from removing the taxes and increasing local production, equally important is the issue of availability to all vulnerable pubescent girls and women.

What is needed is a scheme to make possible for women in even the remotest part of the country to have access to, and be able to afford, a hygienic way of coping with their menses.

It should even be possible for local authorities to provide free sanitary pads to the vulnerable, especially school girls from deprived homes, to boost school attendance.

Thus the example of Mr Muruganantham comes to mind.

Furthermore, given Ghana’s long-standing cordial relations with India, it should still be feasible to arrange for him to share his expertise with Ghana, going the extra mile notably for the benefit of rural communities.

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