Forty million! That’s the number of women and girls around the world who cannot afford sanitary products during menstruation, according to reports by the Borgen Project.
Seventeen-year-old Mekeris Seidu, a head porter at New town in Accra, is one of such girls experiencing what has been termed “period poverty.”
Saidu migrated more than 600km from the Northern region of Ghana to Accra in search of greener pastures.
But upon arrival reality dealt her a big blow. Life in the city was tougher than she ever imagined.
“We came here and yet we are not getting money, in a day you can work for long hours yet, you will not get even 1 cedi to go and bath. Sometimes even the money to buy pure water is a problem,” she said.
Saidu has no roof over her head. At night the cold bare floor becomes her bed. As a head porter, she barely makes enough money to feed and renting an accommodation is a luxury she cannot afford.
During her periods, Saidu is forced to beg for alms to buy sanitary pads. She says there are days when she has had to use toilet rolls and worn out clothes as pad.
“The money that you will use to buy food is a problem. How can you get money to buy a pad?” she lamented.
Gynaecologists advise to change pads at least every three or four hours, depending on how heavy or light the flow is to avoid bacterial infections, but this Saidu cannot afford.
On days when she is unable to make enough money carrying goods for shoppers, Saidu says she has had to forfeit and use the same pad for 48 hours, a situation she described as unpleasant bathing,
“In our hometown when you get your menstruation you can bath three times, but because we don’t have money here, we only bath twice. Sometimes, some of us cannot even get money to pay for one bath.”
To find out just how much some of these sanitary pads cost I visited the Mallam Atta market in Accra. A provision shop attendant said a sanitary pad costs between ¢3-¢5. With the most expensive going for ¢12.
If a girl starts menstruating at age 13 and hits menopause at age 51, she would have spent 38 years menstruating. That’s if she doesn’t get pregnant. A pad costs 5 cedis, if she happens to use two pads in a month, during the 38 year period she would have spent GHS4560 which is close to $1000 on pads alone.
Some sanitary pads cost as much as 12 cedis; if she requires two of such a brand she would have spent GH$10944 – that is a little above $2000 by the end of the 38-year period.
But the pad is not the only thing a girl needs during her periods. For girls who suffer menstrual pain, a painkiller on standby is essential. A panty liner for the last day is an added bonus.
Relief for the needy
Bernice Ankrah owns Sankofa, a non-governmental organization that aims to tackle period poverty in Ghana.
Her organisation has for the past years been distributing free reusable sanitary pads and other products to girls in deprived communities and schools. The reusable pad made right here in Ghana can last 3 to 4 years if properly maintained.
Bernice suggests government subsidises the cost of sanitary products to reduce the financial burden on women and girls. She strongly believes period poverty can be eliminated in the country if the government supports NGO’s such as hers.
“One of the worse cases I heard was at Tema where a 12-year-old had already started trading sex for money to buy sanitary towels, and got pregnant as a result, it's sad, that's why we want government to come on board and support us we can reach out to as many women and girls as possible.”
Until government’s intervention, girls like Saidu would have to rely on the benevolence of the Sankofa Initiative or opt for the cheaper and sometimes unhygienic alternatives during menstruation.
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