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My urgent appeal to the women in Parliament: help end ‘period poverty’

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

My urgent appeal to the women in Parliament, the 40 NPP and NDC Honourables, is simply: please collaborate and use your conceivably compelling weight to end ‘period poverty’ and AS SOON AS POSSIBLE!

‘Period poverty’ is defined as the situation where females from a deprived background are too poor to afford sanitary pads/towels to use during menstruation.

In my opinion, the women of Ghana, who form some 51 per cent of the population, according to official sources, need to have this important cause championed by the women MPs, intriguingly evenly split between the New Patriotic Party and the National Democratic Congress.

They are only 40 out of the 275 members, 20 representing the ruling New Patriotic Party and 20 for the National Democratic Congress. But I believe that they could be a powerful lobby against the taxes on sanitary pads.
World Menstrual Hygiene Day, May 28, is the day that spotlights menstruation issues, and so in Ghana, too, that commemoration sees much focus on period poverty, but afterwards nothing happens to solve the pads problem, despite the advocacy.

Last week, an NGO, the Girls Excellence Movement (GEM), too, “pleaded with the Government to (abolish) the 20 per cent tax on sanitary pads as the tax made the essential commodity expensive and unaffordable for girls in deprived communities.”

According to a GEM study, as quoted in a news item published in last week’s issue of this weekly, “over 60 per cent of girls were said to have financial difficulties and could not afford basic needs such as sanitary pads, a situation that exposed them to various forms of exploitation.
“These girls avoid school during their menstruation or depend on other forms of sanitary items that are unhealthy or expose them to (many) health challenges.”

GEM is a non-governmental organisation founded by Juliana Ama Kplorfia, its Executive Director. Launching their report in Accra on August 24, Ms Kplorfia explained that it was based on a survey to find out the issues affecting girls education in Ghana.

Activists and others have been pleading this cause for years without success and I think it is time the women MPs stepped in to persuade the Government to rescue vulnerable females from this monthly torment.
The following is a summary of what I wrote in this column, SIX (and EIGHT) years ago:
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EXCERPTS FROM A 2016 COLUMN
I wonder how many affluent parents and guardians would be happy if their child had to miss 60 days out of the school year through no fault of theirs.

Well, that is the disquieting estimated number of days some adolescent schoolgirls absent themselves from school for a simple reason: when they’re menstruating they stay home because they don’t have sanitary pads (also known as sanitary towels/napkins) to protect themselves during the average five days duration of their period.
And they don’t use sanitary pads because their parents can’t afford them.

A pack of 12 sanitary pads, costs about GHȼ5 for some brands, or less; and some users may need more than one pack a month. It may sound unbelievable to the well-off that GHȼ5 or GHȼ10 is a monthly expense that some parents can’t afford for a daughter; but that is the reality.

It is two years since this column wrote about this issue (on July 11, 2014) which had generated great controversy over the sanitary pads component of a World Bank loan of US$156 million in 2014 for a ‘Ghana Secondary Education Improvement Project’.

Some men even claimed that lack of sanitary pads can’t make girls stay out of school. And, strangely, they made their pronouncements as if speaking from experience! How do they know this? (Column of July 8, 2016 ‘The glaring truth that some refuse to see’).
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In 2022 Ghana sad that the situation remains the same. I would even go further to suggest that not only should that atrocious tax be abolished, girls in deprived circumstances, especially, should be given FREE sanitary pads by the state – as other countries are doing.

Does the Ministry of Education not care that every month sanitary pad unaffordability keeps countless numbers of girls out of school, some for as many as five days? How then are they to keep up with their lessons, or with the boys? What about the impact on national education targets?

Again, my suggestion: our women in Parliament should join forces to help win this singularly feminine, but nationally critical campaign.
If the men in charge of the state coffers, and the male Honourables seem not to understand the importance of sanitary materials for women, can the women MPs, too, say the same?

They can certainly forget their political differences and unite to fight this common cause for all the affected females, including their constituents.

Notably, period poverty is not solely an African or developing world problem. The wonderful news last week was that effective August 15, as reported by the BBC, Scotland has made “period products FREE FOR ALL”, a global first. “There is now a legal duty on local authorities to provide free items such as tampons and sanitary pads to ‘anyone who needs them.’”

What a commendable policy! Initially, in 2018, Scotland had made sanitary products free for students. And these terrific achievements are attributed to the efforts of Labour Member of the Scottish Parliament Monica Lennon, who started her campaign in 2016.
Other countries, too, recognise the impact of period poverty on national development and are doing something about it. In Africa, countries which reportedly provide free period products include: Kenya, South Africa, Botswana and Zambia.

Thus, at least Ghana has African examples to learn from, so why the seeming, indifference and insensitivity of the Government?
But it seems to me that our legislature has a role in this matter, hence my petition.
As I have stated in this column before, I admire and salute the courage of the women who run for Parliament. And I can’t imagine a stronger lobby for this crusade than the combined pressure of NPP and NDC women legislators fighting this particular cause, to free women from period misery.

Sanitary pads should be made affordable, and even free for the needy.
So, Honourables, women MPs, this is an opportunity to earn the gratitude of generations of poor girls, women and parents. Please don’t let them down! Help end period poverty, period distress!
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