I was born in the mid-nineties, the time girl’s education was not common, and if they got the chance to go to school, some parents could only afford Secondary School education.
It was the days when girls were forced to learn how to cook than to learn because the only means to measure once girlhood was how their food tasted.
They were reserved for the kitchen and others were used as a source of wealth creation by their parent, they were married off to rich old men for fat pride price.
At the time, the call for equal education was not as loud as it is today. The United Nation (UN) women, an organisation that is dedicated to gender equality, was not in existence, so there was not enough champion for girls’ and women’s progress specifically.
No one cared about who a girl wanted to be in the future, the focus was more about the tomorrow of the boy child because he will end up fathering a home while the girls’ role will be taking care of the children and ensuring there was always freshly cooked food on the table.
I remember in our “mama ne dada- (mummy and daddy) ”; a form of play children born in the 90’s entertained themselves with on Saturdays, the boys were career men and the girls paraded themselves as housewives or market women because that was what we were exposed to. Our parents were traders who left home at 4 am and returned at 8 pm.
The girls I grew up including Sedenam, my bosom friend was part of the group of girls who had already started seeing our period- the only thing we were told by our mothers was to stay away from boys who spoke in a heavy voice.
Fast forward we got to a stage in the 2000s where the call for girl child education was amplified more than it was in the 90s, but this time around they had to fight for equal access.
According to a report by United Nations Children’s Funds (UNICEF), 95 per cent of girls living in rural communities in Ghana miss 20 per cent of school because they did not have access to sanitary pads.
Now let’s break down the numbers, one out of every ten girls you meet has missed or is missing school due to period poverty.
Menstruation occurs between four to seven days every month which means a girl who does not have access to menstrual materials; disposable sanitary pads, reusable pads, menstrual cups, or tampons will be absent from school for four to seven days every month which affects her education.
Most of these girls come from a home where eating a nutritious meal is a big deal, it is hard to afford food, therefore buying a sanitary a pad is a secondary issue.
I met Akua in February 2021 at Asaratoase I visited in the Central Region of Ghana for our period poverty and menstrual hygiene intervention program. She is the firstborn among three girls whose parents are farmers.
She told me how it was difficult for her mother to afford sanitary pads for all of them every month, thus compelling them to use tissues and rags during their periods.
According to her, the rags and tissues were very uncomfortable as it easily soiled her uniform.
To avoid being humiliated in class, she has no other option than to skip school during her period, a situation she said, was consequently having an adverse impact on her academic performance.
In order to avert that situation, she decided to help the other farmers in her community after school to enable her raise money to buy sanitary pads to maintain her period.
She also revealed how other girls in her community were having sex with men for money to buy sanitary pad.
World Bank has estimated that 11.5 million women and girls in Ghana lack hygiene management facilities that aid in healthy menstrual hygiene management. Most primary and secondary schools’ education and other public spaces do not have change rooms and proper sanitary pad disposal that gives girls the luxury and comfort they desire during that time of the month.
Menstruation is an integral part of every girl’s existence yet girls and women are facing inhumane activities and injustice.
Not only are they absenting themselves from school, but they are also prevented from cooking, praying, sleeping beside their husbands, crossing rivers, and partaking in some social activities, violating their rights. Period poverty is a global issue affecting the socio-economic development of women and girls.
In the quest to support menstruating girls and ensure they have access to equal education, The Orange Girl Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), has started a journey of fighting period poverty by ensuring girls do not stay out of school due to lack of sanitary materials.
The organization has introduced the reusable pad which is a more sustainable way of curbing period poverty and promoting girls’ education.
In a 21st century world, the sanitary pad should not be a reason girls will miss school, let’s reserve that for the 90s.
No sex for pad!
The writer is Ethel Nanayaa Afrakuma Amoako Baffoe, a journalist and the Gender Advocate.