Menstruation is a natural occurrence in women and can associated with pain, mood swings and other forms of discomfort. In recent times, the high cost of sanitary pads has added to the pains associated with the monthly flow in Ghana.
In rural communities in Northern Ghana, the high cost of sanitary pads has compelled some young women to resort to the use of untreated fabrics and tissues, which can have negative consequences on their health.
There are now intensified calls to remove taxes on sanitary pads to make them more affordable for all.
Failatu, a final year student of Islamic Senior High School (SHS) in the Sagnerigu Municipality of the Northern Region, tells SheHUB Ghana that she is unable to afford all her sanitary pad needs with her termly upkeep money of GH¢50 (6.23 USD).
“There are instances where I don’t have enough money to buy [them], so I either use toilet roll or tissue. In the end, there’ll be blood on my dress, which causes stigmatisation. My dad sends me GH¢50, so I buy the pad with GH¢12 and use the rest for the month, which affects me in so many ways,” she explains.
While Failatu battles with affordability, girls in remote areas in the country do not have access to the product even if they could afford it.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report estimates that, one in 10 girls in sub-saharan Africa, misses school during her menstrual period, which equals as much as 20% of a given school year.
In Ghana, available data indicates that 9 out of 10 girls regularly miss school during their periods. 44 to 54 percent of school girls in Northern Ghana use reusable clothes to collect menstrual blood due to lack of access and funds to buy a disposable sanitary pad.
“Sometimes, you call your parents and ask them for money, they will tell you to wait. They don’t have money now, but the cycle is not wasting time. When it comes, you either beg your friends or use rags or some material to protect yourself, and it affects us a lot,” Suraiya Mohammed, also a student, shares.
Ghana largely imports disposable sanitary products with a 20% import tax, resulting in high cost and deepening the existing inequalities, as the income levels of women and young girls in rural areas are low.
Nancy Yeri, Girls and Female Empowerment Manager for Norsaac, a gender based advocacy organization working to promote the equality of women in Ghana, urged the government to abolish taxes on sanitary products.
“We are calling on the government together with the young people on the Power to Youth project, and we are saying, remove the luxury 20% tax on sanitary materials in Ghana. Let’s end period poverty together.”
Malawi, a landlocked country in southeastern Africa which according to Morgan Stanley, has a GDP growing at 2.9 percent less than Ghana’s GDP growth rate of 5.5 in 2022, has been able to scrap 16.5% tax on sanitary products, to make it affordable and accessible to young girls.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 1, 3 4 5 and 6, to which Ghana is a signatory, strongly connects with periods of poverty. Sadly, there is no clear-cut policy on addressing challenges associated with menstruation.
The Northern Regional Acting Director for the Department of Gender, Bushira Alhassan, thinks the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection and the Parliamentary Select Committee on gender should push for tax relief on sanitary pads.
“I know the ministry is also working on that, pushing the government to reduce taxes on sanitary pads, and I know the ministry would want to engage with Parliament. I don’t know if they have something like that on board, but it should be something that the ministry will push with the government so that we can have these taxes reviewed. This can pass through the Parliamentary Select Committee on gender so that when it gets to Parliament and this thing is reviewed, maybe we can have taxes, if not taken out away, at least, reduced on sanitary pads,” she discloses.
Even though Ghana has no recognised disposable sanitary pad manufacturing company, some local enterprises like Song ba Empowerment centre in Tamale in the Northern Region, have ventured into the production of reusable pads which some organisations have partnered and distributed to rural girls for free.
The founder of the centre, Rhoda Wedam notes that: “All year round, our centre produces these washable clothes. We produce over 2000 of them in a year. The thing is that, with the fabrics that we use, we don’t get them in Ghana, they are imported into the country and by the time they get into the country, they are so expensive. These are products girls cannot afford to buy, so usually, we partner with organisations that buy them for the girls. They are the people that we get purchasing the sanitary pad, and then we help them in sensitising these girls on adolescent health before we do the distribution,” she states.
Ms Wedam thinks investing in local production of reusable pads and making the same available to young rural girls will greatly address the issue of menstrual poverty.
“We have the human resource, it’s just access to the fabric that we have issues with. I think this is where the government would have to partner with those in the production of reusable pads, and get to know what fabric can serve the purpose. We have a lot of business people who I think would want to venture into that aspect. They should just bring the fabric down,” she adds.
In the midst of this, economists in the country advise that cutting taxes and providing free menstrual hygiene products need a multifaceted approach by the government in order to achieve its intended outcomes.
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