Menstruation is a natural occurrence in women. The phenomenon is often 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 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, with consequences for their health.
There are now intensified calls to remove taxes on sanitary pads to make them more affordable for all.
Failatu is a final year student of Islamic SHS in the Sagnerigu Municipality of the Northern Region. With GH¢50 as her upkeep money per term, she is unable to afford all her sanitary pad needs.
“There are instances where I don’t have enough money to buy the pad, 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.”
While Failatu battles with affordability, girls in remote areas do not have access to the product even if they could afford it.
A UNESCO report estimates that, one in ten girls in sub-saharan Africa, misses school during their menstrual period, which equals as much as twenty percent 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 rag or some material to protect yourself, and it affects us a lot,” Suraiya Mohammed, another student said.
Ghana largely imports disposable sanitary products with a 20 percent 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.
The world marks menstrual hygiene day every year.
The day provides opportunities for stakeholders to create awareness as well as call for policy reforms to address certain bottlenecks.
This year, as part of the celebration, stakeholders like Norsaac want the government to abolish taxes on sanitary products.
The Girls and Female Empowerment Manager for Norsaac Nancy Yeri, said: “We are calling on government together with the young people on the power to youth project, and we are saying, remove the luxury 20 percent tax on sanitary materials in Ghana, let’s end period poverty together.”
Malawi, which according to Morgan Stanley, an economist, 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 UN Sustainable Development Goals 1, 3 4 5 and 6 to which Ghana is a signatory, strongly connect 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 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.”
Even though Ghana has no recognised disposable sanitary pad manufacturing company, some local enterprises like Song ba Empowerment centre in Tamale, 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 noted 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 can not 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.”
Rhoda Wedam thinks investing in local production of reusable pads and making 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 government would have to partner with those in the production of reusable pads, and get to know what fabric that 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 added.
In the midst of this, economists advise that cutting taxes and providing free menstrual hygiene products need a multifaceted approach by government in order to achieve its intended outcomes.