She wakes up in the morning ready to face the day’s challenges. But then she notices a blood stain on her bedsheet. Did I get injured? she wondered. Little did she know she was about to experience another dimension of ‘growing up’. These may be the thoughts of many young girls when they first have their period. It’s new and strange, yet it is part of God’s design. Mummy will be the first point of contact. But now, we can probably assume every young girl would have heard about this inevitable cycle they will go through. But why should you be concerned?
Looking back, you probably wonder what our great grandmothers did. How did they manage this? Growing up, all that was available to use was ‘rags’. Yes, rags to soak up this blood flow. Fast-forward to modern times, sanitary pads and other sanitary products are available. These have become the standard in managing menstruation. So, what is the big deal then? Well, to answer that, let’s take a closer look at the term ‘Period Poverty’.
Period poverty is an important, yet often ignored, public health crisis. ‘Period poverty’ refers to the prevalent phenomena of being unable to afford products such as pads, tampons or liners to manage menstrual bleeding. In lieu of sanitary products, many people are forced to use items like rags, paper-towels, toilet paper, or cardboard. Others ration sanitary products by using them for extended amounts of time.
Period poverty encompasses not only this lack of access to products, but also inadequate access to toilets, handwashing receptacles, and hygienic waste management. Period poverty especially prevents low-income menstruators from bleeding with dignity. Women and young girls who menstruate are barred from some basic activities – like eating certain foods, or socialising – all over the world. The cultural shame attached to menstruation and a shortage of resources stop girls/women from going to school and working every day.
Lack of knowledge on menstruation is one of several factors which keep girls from going to school during their period. Traditional beliefs play a role, too. In some villages, for example, it’s believed that you are dirty when you menstruate. Sometimes the men will tell you not to touch them. Menstruation comes with a lot of perceptions. In some places, when a girl has her period she is not supposed to cook or to greet elders.
On top of that, there is a practical reason for girls to stay inside during their period: most of them cannot afford sanitary pads, as stated earlier. Those who go to school when they get it feel bad the whole day, because they think their friends notice that they are menstruating and it looks like a disgrace to them.
In places like the Northern Region – talking from personal experience – most girls from the rural areas still use rags when menstruating; and these rags might contain germs which might affect them.
There is also a belief that it is a taboo for anyone to know a girl is menstruating. So, most young ladies prefer to hide away from the stigma. Thus, they cannot even dry these ‘rags’ outside so that the bacteria can be killed by the sun; instead, some use them over extensive periods – which can be harmful. Parents cannot even afford to provide food for them, let alone buying sanitary pads.
At this point, we can all see how this is a matter of huge concern. So, the next valid question would be how to manage this situation. Well, I propose government, as part of its scheme for schools, includes a package that caters to this specific need of young girls. Another is to educate the public, not just the females but everyone, on this subject matter.
Everyone needs to understand what exactly this is and not to stigmatise women and young girls, but rather help them menstruate with dignity. We can also normalise healthy menstrual hygiene management. A healthy understanding of how to manage menstruation is vital. Menstrual hygiene management offers coping mechanisms to girls who suffer from cramps, headaches and other side-effects of menstruation. Reports state that these coping skills help encourage girls to continue attending school while on their period.
Period poverty is a prevailing issue in Ghana. However, I believe that education on menstruation, healthy menstrual hygiene management, and supply distribution and elimination of the import tax on menstruation materials provide a feasible avenue to end period poverty in Ghana and help the next young girl menstruate in peace and with dignity.
The writer is a student at the University for Development Studies