Period poverty: Rural northern women, girls use rags as sanitary pad
Ms Fuseini Pagnaa, a 30-year-old woman at Gnani, a suburb of Yendi in the Northern Region, has been using rags as sanitary pad during her menstrual period for the past months.
She is unable to recall the last time she used disposable sanitary pads. Although, Ms Pagnaa is not comfortable with the rags, she is forced to use them because she cannot afford the disposable pads anymore.Subscribe
According to her, she used to buy a disposable sanitary pad for less than GH¢5 in January 2022, but it now cost about GH¢17.
“I am forced to use rags because the cost of pads this time is out of my budget range,” she said.
For Atiah Solina, a student of the Yilonaa Yili Junior High School in the Sagnarigu District, she feels uncomfortable to attend classes anytime she used rags during her menstrual period.
She said, “I always feel sad when my period approaches because I have to deal with excruciating discomfort and sometimes miss classes”.
"Some girls are often forced to ask men for favours in order to buy pads and in exchange, the men want to have sex with them. This sometimes lead to pregnancy or infections, putting their education in danger,” she told the Daily Graphic.
Experiencing the flow of blood every month is a sign of 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.
Ghana largely imports disposable sanitary pads with a 20 per cent import tax, with the cost of the products seeing recent increases from about GH¢5 to GH¢17 between January 2022 and February 2023 due to inflation.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), one in 10 girls in sub-saharan Africa misses school during their menstrual period, an equivalent of about 20 per cent in a given school year.
In Ghana, nine out 10 girls miss school during their periods, and between 44 and 45 per cent of schoolgirls in northern Ghana use rags to collect menstrual blood due to lack of funds to buy
disposable sanitary pads.
The stories of Ms Pagnaa and Ms Solina are not different from that of a number of young girls in the region who have resorted to the use of rags and reusable cloths due to lack of funds to purchase disposable sanitary pads.
Checks by the Daily Graphic indicate that disposable pad usage has declined in the region as most rural women have resorted to the use of rags.
In an interview, the Executive Director of Savannah Women Integrated Development Agency (SWIDA), Alima Sagito Saeed expressed worry about the development, saying most women and girls were suffering from period poverty as they could not afford disposable sanitary pads.
She corroborated claims that some girls exchanged their bodies for disposable sanitary pads.
“The exorbitant price of pads put girls in a vulnerable position, forcing them to take risky decisions such as sex for pads and drug abuse”, she said.
Although, rags were predominantly used by women to manage their periods in the olden days, health experts have linked the use of the materials to several infections.
A Medical Laboratory Scientist at the Tamale Teaching Hospital, Dr Daberu N. Oliver said using rags for menstruation was a dangerous practice that had both immediate and long-term consequences on the individual.
He explained that bacterial and fungal infections could be easily transmitted through unclean rags, adding, “when these infections are not diagnosed and treated early, there is a chance that they will spread from the urinary system to the reproductive organs, resulting in infertility”.
Aside from the current inflation rate, which has increased prices of essential goods, sanitary pads are also subjected to a 32.5 per cent levy, which includes a 12.5 per cent VAT and a 20 per cent luxury tax.
In 2020, the government promised to abolish sanitary pad taxes and distribute free pads to students and low-income women.
The Vice President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, made the announcement during the launch of the party’s 2020 manifesto at the University of Cape Coast said it had become imperative to eliminate the tariffs to improve the menstrual hygiene of students, particularly girls.
However, since the announcement nothing had been done about it.
Commenting on the matter, the Executive Director of the Global Media Foundation, Raphael Godlove Ahenu, who has been promoting menstrual hygiene, said menstrual hygiene products continued to be taxed despite several pledges by successive governments.
He described the taxes as unfair and pointed out that, "menstruation is not the fault of women, in the present era, we don't expect girls and women to use rags instead of pads as they did in the past”.
Given the nation's current economic predicament, he said, "there is no sign of hope, but I believe if wasteful spending is reduced, the government would be able to help poor women and children as far as menstruation is concerned”.
He, however, urged various stakeholders to join the push for the abolishment of taxes on sanitary pads.
Despite the prevailing situation, a number of organisations and individuals are helping young ladies and women who cannot afford sanitary pads. One of such organisations is SWIDA Ghana, which has been teaching school girls how to produce their own reusable sanitary products.
According to the organisation's Gender and Communication Officer, Abdul Samed Khadijah, empowering girls and women to make their own reusable pads was a sustainable approach to ending period poverty.
She indicated that the NGO had trained 500 girls how to make their own reusable items using local materials and had plans to teach, up to 3,000 females in the coming months.
Kodu Technology, also based in the north, is working to manufacture less expensive pads by using locally sourced materials to help low-income families.
The company intends to launch its product, IRES PADS, which is produced mainly from banana fibre, in early 2023.
Menstruation is a natural phenomenon and it should not be a barrier to women and girls to achieve their dreams.
To that end, there is the need for sustainable interventions to ensure that women and girls have free and easy access to menstrual hygiene products and services.
The government must also consider abolishing taxes on disposable sanitary pads just as that of condoms to ensure free and easy access to menstrual hygiene products and services.