Access to free sanitary pads for girls without tears!
A World Bank report published on May 25, 2022, sthat on any given day, more than 300 million women worldwide menstruate or have theiates tr period.
This is a female biological function, which involves the normal discharge of blood and other material from the lining of the uterus or womb at intervals of about one lunar month from puberty until menopause, except during pregnancy.
The first day of a woman's period is also the first day of the menstrual cycle, which can last between two to seven days. During a period, women lose about 20 to 90ml (about one to five tablespoons) of blood, although some women bleed more heavily than this.
Despite the importance of this biological function in the life of women, it is estimated that globally, 500 million women do not have access to adequate facilities to manage their periods, with about 50 per cent in developing countries forced to use rags, paper and leaves.
Adolescent girls often face many challenges that may compromise their ability to complete school or their sexual and reproductive health.
These challenges can be even further complicated by the stresses associated with menstruation or their limited access to sanitary products, decent toilet facilities and running water to help them manage menstruation.
Menstrual hygiene habits can impact incidence of sexually transmitted and reproductive tract infections, school attendance and performance, psychosocial health and cause fear of leaking and shame, all of which can contribute to the inability of girls to reach their potential.
A UNESCO report estimates that one in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual cycle, which is equivalent of about 20 per cent of a given school year.
According to UNICEF, in Ghana for example, only two out of five schools have toilets or pit latrines and running water, making it difficult for girls to manage their menstrual health.
While several programmes have previously been developed to address girls’ menstrual health management, in recent times, the provision of sanitary pads by civil societies, individuals and politicians to girls of schooling age has attracted a lot of attention.
Whereas this initiative is seen by some as a corporate social responsibility, others see it as a mere political gimmick aimed at securing votes in elections.
A BBC report, which showed a number of schoolchildren injured when a railing broke loose at a stadium in a southern Sierra Leone town where the President of Sierra Leone, Julius Bio and the First Lady, Fatima Bio, were distributing free sanitary towels, is a recent case of how girls struggle to keep up during their menstrual period.
Nevertheless, the sanitary pad provision initiative is a worthy cause that must be encouraged.
The problem though is the sustainability of the initiative in terms of cost.
To make the initiative sustainable and affordable, governments must actively get involved in making sanitary pads free, safe and accessible to girls of schooling age as it is quite expensive for girls in deprived communities to be able to afford.
The price of a sanitary pad cost between GH¢10 to GH¢25 on the retail market, a girl in her period will need about two packs of the sanitary pad for her monthly cycle and this can be quite challenging.
There have also been calls by individuals and civil societies to government to reduce taxes and market entry barriers, which will lead to price reduction on sanitary pads, making them free and readily accessible to improve personal hygiene and reduce some of the associated challenges.
Scotland has become the first country in the world to make sanitary products free for all and this has been in effect since August, 2022.
Addressing girls’ menstrual health challenges are important but are better positioned as part of a comprehensive sexuality education programme that addresses the associated stigma and shame, inequitable gender norms, access to menstrual products, and the gaps in sexual and reproductive health knowledge, as opposed to a girls’ education intervention.
The writer is the Senior Procurement Manager,
Ghana College of Pharmacists.