Millions of girls drop out of school annually due to a lack of access to menstrual hygiene facilities
Ghana is a country in West Africa whose cultural and traditional beliefs are influential in shaping societal norms, including menstrual hygiene.
Unfortunately, the lack of understanding and access to proper menstrual hygiene products continues to affect many Ghanaian girls and women, causing them to feel shame and discomfort during their periods.
In addition to this, the government’s imposition of a 20% luxury tax on menstrual hygiene products has made it even more difficult for these women to access the products they need.
Menstrual hygiene is a public health concern affecting millions of women across the globe. In Ghana, a significant number of women do not have access to adequate and affordable menstrual hygiene products, particularly in rural areas. In many cases, women use dirty rags, leaves, or newspapers during their periods as they cannot afford proper sanitary pads or tampons.
These makeshift products not only put women’s health at risk, but they also increase discomfort, leading to missing school or work during their periods.
The government’s imposition of a 20% luxury tax on menstrual hygiene products is a double blow to women who already face a lack of access to these products. Despite the fact that sanitary pads are essential hygiene products and not luxury items, the government continues to impose the tax, which disproportionately affects women from low-income households who cannot afford them.
This taxation policy has been in place since 2015, with the government earning millions of cedis annually from it. The intention of the tax was to increase revenue for the government, but it has had an adverse effect on vulnerable groups, particularly women.
According to UNESCO, most girls are absent from school for four days in a month and end up losing 13 learning days equivalent in every school term.
In an academic year of nine months, a girl loses 39 learning days, equivalent to six weeks of learning time, due to a lack of sanitary pads.
This situation has dire consequences for the lives of girls.
It is in this light the Ghana Civil Society Organizations Platform on SDGs together with its network members including the Human Rights Reporters Ghana, Africa Education Watch, Renel Ghana Foundation and other like-minded CSOs working within the health and education sectors of Ghana have demonstrated their dedication and passion towards the issue and are relentless through their advocacy campaigns to put pressure on government to do the needful so as to bring about the desired change.
The campaigners are with the strongest view that any policy that discriminates against a section of its population and pushes them into poverty has no place in an inclusive and democratic state hence the need to be proactive in their advocacy drives towards the urgent removal of the 20% luxury tax on menstrual hygiene products to address the menstrual health issues of our women and girls in Ghana.
It is disheartening to know that Ghana experiences a significant lack of access to clean and affordable menstrual products as well as a lack of knowledge about basic menstrual hygiene practices. The taxes on sanitary pads have made the product very expensive and inaccessible to many low-income households, which must choose between the pads and competing needs.
The estimated cost of one pad in Ghana averages to about Twenty-five Ghana Cedis (GH₵ 25) equivalent to 2.15 US dollars makes it difficult for girls and women in the rural areas to afford.
The government of Ghana presently charges a luxury tax of 20% and an additional 12.5% VAT on sanitary pads. The fact that this tax is directly targeted at females for a natural occurrence in their reproductive process they have no choice or control over makes the tax highly unjust and immoral. The choice of whether to keep its people clean and safe or not is one that a state should never have to present to its people, particularly to the vulnerable sections of society.
Removing the 20% luxury tax on menstrual hygiene products is essential to addressing menstrual hygiene issues in Ghana, and the government must take urgent action. Indeed, it is a fact that Ghana’s policy is not in line with the United Nations’ goal of ensuring good menstrual health and hygiene by 2030. Women face enough challenges with menstruation, and the imposition of a tax on menstrual hygiene products only makes matters worse.
Furthermore, Ghanaian cultural and traditional beliefs stigmatize menstruation and contribute to the lack of understanding about menstrual hygiene. Many people in Ghana consider menstruation as dirty and shameful, and, as a result, women are reluctant to talk about it or seek help. This lack of awareness marginalizes women who are already struggling to access menstrual hygiene products.
To address this challenge, governments and NGOs must work together to bring about behavioural change education on menstrual hygiene, both within households and schools.
It is necessary to break the silence around menstruation, break the stigma surrounding it, and provide accurate information to people of all genders. By educating the masses about menstrual health, we can increase demand for menstrual hygiene products, thereby increasing women’s access to them.
In addition to removing the luxury tax, there is a need for government intervention to make menstrual hygiene products more readily available and accessible to all women, regardless of their socio-economic status.
The government must create policies that provide subsidies for women who cannot afford these products. This intervention will ensure that women who are below the poverty line do not miss out on vital sanitary pads and tampons.
Therefore, the Ghanaian government must take menstrual hygiene issues seriously and take immediate steps to remove the 20% luxury tax on menstrual hygiene products. The government needs to work closely with NGOs and health professionals to increase awareness about menstrual hygiene and address the stigmatization surrounding it. This will help create an enabling environment to reduce the spread of infections and enhance overall public health. A tax break on menstrual hygiene products is an essential step in this direction.
In summary, Ghana needs to address menstrual hygiene issues urgently. The 20% luxury tax on menstrual hygiene products must be removed, and subsidized policies must be implemented to make them more available and accessible to all women, regardless of their socio-economic status.
Furthermore, education and awareness campaigns aimed at educating people, especially girls, women, and their households, on menstrual hygiene should be conducted. Building partnerships with NGOs, health professionals, and communities will create a conducive environment to promote menstrual hygiene and make necessary interventions to help vulnerable groups.
Meanwhile, as Ghana joins the world to commemorate the 2023 Menstrual Hygiene Day which falls on May 28, 2023, the Ghana Civil Society Organizations Platform on SDGs and its network members including the Send Ghana, Human Rights Reporters Ghana (HRRG), Renel Ghana Foundation, Norsaac, Youth Advocate Ghana (YAG) and the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana (PPAG) among others CSOs championing issues of health are with the strongest voice calling on the government to prioritize issues of menstrual hygiene and endeavour to take urgent action to scrap the 20% luxury tax on menstrual hygiene products to help address the menstrual hygiene issues confronted by our women and girls in the country.
As part of activities earmarked for the celebration, the campaigners barring any unforeseen circumstances will be rallying around #MyPeriodMattersCampaign including holding a series of activities to strongly advocate, drum home their campaign messages and bring pressure to bear on government to do the needful.
A similar event is also expected to hold on Sunday, May 28 2023, at Jawani, a village situated in the East Mamprusi District of the North East Region where SmartRiz Africa, a non-governmental organization in collaboration with the Future African Leaders Foundation, INSPIRE HER and the Human Rights Reporters Ghana among others would take up the bold initiative to sensitise the village folks on the significance of the global day celebration, the essence of maintaining menstrual hygiene, the need to support girls to get access to menstrual pads without hitches and above all use the occasion to call on government to help prioritize urgent removal of 20% luxury tax on menstrual hygiene products in order to promote menstrual hygiene in Ghana.
The anticipation is that the mammoth durbar would be climaxed with the distribution of over 1,000 free sanitary pads among girls to ease their burdens during their menstrual periods.
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