- Advertisement -

Feature: Luxury I cannot afford; dilemma of teen girls in Upper East Region

- Advertisement -

Access to menstrual products continues to be a significant challenge confronting teenage girls in deprived rural areas in the Upper East Region.

Despite coming of age, girls in these communities not only rely on old pieces of cloth as substitutes for sanitary pads but also perceive sanitary pads as luxury items they can never afford due to financial difficulties and family neglect.

This feature delves deep into the challenges young girls face in their quest to acquire sanitary pads in their various communities.

Rita Ayine, not her real name, is a 13-year-old basic 4 student at Baarpelug Basic School in the Talensi District of the Upper East Region. Her first menstruation occurred in the house when she was preparing to go to school. She said it came with pain, shock, and a heavy flow—an experience she will never forget.

“It was difficult for me. So, when the blood comes out and I don’t use the rag, it always leaks and stains my clothes. That’s why I use the rag as a substitute for pads. I’m always not happy using the rag. But I usually bring an additional piece if I am going to school so that when it’s overflowing, I remove the soaked one and replace it with the new one.”

The only education Rita had from her mother about menstruation was abstinence from the opposite sex. “The blood always comes out. My mother told me that when you are a woman experiencing your menstrual flow and you’re not bathing regularly, you will get a bad body odor. Again, if you are a menstruating girl and you have sexual relationships with boys, you will get pregnant.”

Rita, the eldest of five, lives with her mother and father, who pay no attention to her menstrual health. They are peasant farmers in the Baarpelug community, and being able to get a sanitary pad for Rita is a luxury they cannot afford.

Speaking to Gifty, Rita’s mother, she underscored the financial difficulties the family had succumbed to.

“When she started menstruating, I have always told her that, well, you know there is no money. So, I have always told her to use a small piece of cloth, nicely folded and laid on the panty, and dress up. She will not get stained when the flow comes. I’ve told her that if she’s getting a heavy flow and the cloth gets soaked, she can remove and wash it and change a new one. But if it is not heavy, she should manage with one cloth.”

Rita is a determined student who loved to attend school regularly until she started menstruating. With limited financial resources, this cycle of life not only affects her academic progress but also takes a toll on her self-esteem and mental well-being. Rita’s situation symbolizes a larger problem faced by countless young girls in the district and the region at large.

At the Sakoti community in the Nabdam District, a 16-year-old suffered from infections after using a piece of cloth during her menstrual flow. Joyce, not her real name, started using pieces of cloth as sanitary pads the very month her supporting father died.

“When my father died, he was a teacher before he died. It has been difficult for me. I have three other siblings, making four in number. I can remember clearly that it was on August 11, after my father’s burial, that my period came, and I asked my aunt’s daughter for a sanitary pad, and she insulted me. So, I asked myself, Why is it that God did not make me a boy? It has been difficult. Sometimes, if I don’t get the sanitary pad, I use rags as my pad. For two months. It has been difficult because anytime I use it, I feel itchy around my vagina and discharge like whites.”

This not only affects her self-esteem and mental well-being but also her concentration at school. She attended Zuarungu Senior High School and wishes things would change for the better.

Mary, another teenager, faced a similar situation to Joyce. The 17-year-old started using pieces of cloth in place of sanitary pads at the age of 13. Mary, not her real name, lost both of her parents at a very young age, and now her daily survival depends on her relatives for food, not sanitary pads. Mary, a student at Zuarungu Senior High School, wished this period poverty was a dream.

“I do not feel comfortable, but there is nothing that I can do about it. But I will have to use the rags. Sometimes, I can be walking, and I feel like the thing is going to be removed.”

Indeed, not every girl can endure the pain of using a piece of cloth as a substitute for a sanitary pad. Just like Janet, who is now in her early 19s. With three siblings, Janet started relying on the influence of the opposite sex just so she could afford a pad at the age of 15. Of course, Janet saw such behavior as the only way she could have her self-esteem, especially when she was with her friends in school.

“To get a pad to use, it’s always difficult for me because my mother has four children, and without a husband, she is not married. So sometimes even asking for something to buy your things is difficult for me. So, to survive, I engage in having a boyfriend, whereby that person can sponsor me. In case I want to buy deodorants, pads, or any of my dresses. But if I ask my mom, she will say that she does not have; she does not do this. [Asked how long she’s been engaging the help of boyfriends] Since I was 15  years old, I am now 19 years old.”

It is common knowledge that girls who are in second-cycle institutions are usually the hardest hit regarding access to sanitary pads.

Madam Abubakari Umuhari, headmistress of Zuarungu Senior High School, noted that the school has a population of over 2,000, and out of that number, the girl child is more than the boy.

“I must say that with the issue of sanitary pads, most of them are having challenges; a lot of them are having challenges. The school has little to do because resources are usually not enough for us to be able to run the institution, but I think we are also doing our part. As an institution, we try to seek help from some institutions and NGOs who do sometimes come to help us be able to distribute sanitary pads to students. We plead with institutions, organizations, NGOs that are into girl child education to please try and support us.”

She added, “The girls really, if they are supported in that area, I think they will make it best. They will do their best as far as education is concerned. Because the majority of them are very good and very intelligent, and imagine you have a lot of us managing institutions, I think that Mother Ghana will go a long way to say thank you, and these girls will contribute their quota towards development. So, I just want to plead as a head that NGOs and institutions that are into girl child education, and even those that are not, should please come to our aid. We just want them to support our girls with sanitary pads.”

Issues regarding menstrual health, Naab Bohagu Samuel Namoog, Chief of Kotintaabig of Sakoti Traditional Area, said the area needs critical attention.

“In issues of this nature, we offer stakeholder engagement in education to the people. So that families will begin to take responsibility or to show concern when it comes to their children entering the menstrual period. So that they do not leave it to only the mothers to take care of. We, the men, just think that it is the responsibility of the woman to know that about the child, but it is also incumbent on the man to show that concern to your ward. So those educations are going on at the community levels we run so that ignorant people will be educated on those things. So that they take responsibility by providing those things for their children.”

Madam Patience Abayon, a public health nurse with the Ghana Health Service in Bolgatanga Municipality, has been talking about the health complications of using pieces of cloth instead of sanitary pads.

“So, the health effects are numerous. The one that comes to mind is urinary tract infections. You know that the female reproductive system is such that we have a lot of holes or cavities. We call it in medical terms, so if you’re not using these rags in the right way, you’re not keeping them the right way, and you expose yourself to urinary tract infections. How does this occur? You see that once there is a problem or the rag or the cloth is not properly washed, you use it again; it serves as a breathing place for bacteria, and once these bacteria get access to the hole, these rags gather these bacteria, or dirt, I should say, then you still use it.

She added, “This dirt will travel through the cavity or the hole and go straight into your reproductive system. That is, through the cervix to the uterus, and by doing so, you will be exposing yourself to a lot of conditions. You can have infections of the bladder; you can have infections of the urinary track, which is the urethra; and then you can have infections of the kidneys. It can go as far as the kidneys and have these effects in the long run. So, you will see some people suffering from pelvic inflammatory diseases (PIDs), and this disease has caused a lot of people to have infertility. You will treat and treat, but you will not link it to the fact that you were using those rags that were not properly kept.”

Goal three of the Sustainable Development Goals seeks to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. There have been a series of protests and petitions to the government to have the taxes on the importation of sanitary pads removed. The finance minister in his 2024 budget review indicated that locally produced sanitary pads are going to be tax-free, which would, in effect, bring the prices of locally produced pads down.

But such an assertion by Naab Bohagu Samuel Namoog ought to be relooked at as it will be like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

He said the government ought to realize that menstruation is a natural phenomenon that needs special treatment; hence, zero tax and zero VAT should be implemented on menstrual products.

Gabriel Akandawen, the project officer at the Youth Harvest Foundation Ghana, said that as an organization, they will continue to do their bit to support struggling girls in such conditions.

“We will continue to educate people when it comes to their menstrual health. We also, in every little way, can provide sanitary pads and make them available for young girls. We also try, as much as possible, to seek other funding to be able to address these issues. At the organizational level, these are things we can do, but one thing we can also assure users and others is that this advocacy that has started is something that will continue until we see tangible results.”

He stressed, “I think in 2022, we were at Akantome primary school; I think this year we have gone to the Tongo girls model school and all that. There are other schools where we have done this over the years. But these, I think, schools that just immediately last year and this year we have been there.”

For how long will women and girls, especially those from deprived areas, continue to suffer from this period of poverty?

This documentary was produced by Moses Apiah and funded by the Youth Harvest Foundation Ghana.

Source: A1Radioonline.com|101.1MHz|Moses Apiah|Ghana

- Advertisement -


- Advertisement -


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related news

- Advertisement -