Every year since its inception in 1991, the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign (here in after 16 Days) has begun on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25) and ended on International Human Rights Day (December 10). The brainchild of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, 16 Days emphasizes that all forms of gender-based violence are a violation of human rights.
The theme of the just-ended 2015 Campaign, ”From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All”, suggests that education is a public good and a fundamental human right, as stated in Article 26 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and supported by various international and regional human rights frameworks. A major obstacle to achieving this goal is menstruation management for girls and young women. UNICEF estimates that 1 in 10 girls in Africa either misses days at school during menstruation or drops out of school entirely because they do not have access to appropriate facilities or resources to manage their menstruation. Girls and young women face early marriage or forced marriage that can cut short their education; the threat of different forms of school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV), including sexual violence and abuse on the way or within education settings; and discrimination in the availability of essential infrastructure such as adequate and safely accessible sanitary facilities.
Ghana joined over 5,478 organizations and 187 countries and territories during this year’s 16 Days Campaign by calling for an end to gender-based violence and accountability on the part of policymakers and community members to end violence, discrimination, and inequality. I commend the Ministry of Gender Children and Social Protection, other agencies and Civil Society for observing the 16 Days but unfortunately very little was seen on the ground as pragmatic actions aimed at addressing our problems rather we saw much of social media campaign which in my opinion can rarely reach the specific audience who needed the information in order to reform. One very important area of Gender-based violation which l was disappointment missed the touchline in the whole 16 Days was Menstrual Hygiene Management to my dismay focus was on high policy goals which will not see implementation anytime soon as against the low hanging fruits like affordable sanitary towels for girls to use during menstruation and the different forms of school-related Gender-based violence (SGBV).Why leave basic necessities of our communities to be asking for things which are far-fetched?
Basic actions such as the following are not too difficult to achieve and would give us much needed results as a Country:
1.Providing honest, age-appropriate and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education to young girls and boys from as early as age nine would assist boys in empathizing with their female classmates and prepare young girls for this essential process in their bodies. Girls who learn about menstruation before menarche have a more positive experience and association with their menstruation. Having knowledge of their bodies gives them a sense of urgency, which is important to establish at a young age.
2.Building private and adequate hygiene facilities for girls in every public space would allow girls to access resources in society equally.
3.Creating public awareness events and/or school lessons that target misconceptions, malpractices and negative associations regarding menstruation.
4.Extending education about menstruation to the entire family. Fathers are usually the economic providers in families and oftentimes have more power to decide to put money aside each month for sanitary pads for the females in the household. Mothers are usually the ones to speak to their daughters about menstruation and are imperative to providing positive support and accurate information.
5. Equipping schools with soap, sanitary pads and medication for pain during menstruation and training all staff to be allies for young girls during their adolescence.
6.Remove the import tax on female hygiene products and this will reduce the cost of these products by a percentage, making them more affordable.
If campaigners could practicalize some of the above and others, we can be sure that we have provided part of the solution to other problems such as Teenage Pregnancy, early marriage among others because we would have created the right environment for a frank and dispassionate discussion which will include all other related social issues. J Initiative (JI) urges the Ministry of Gender, children and Social Protection, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance and Economic planning, the Select Committee on Gender in parliament and Civil Society to act on the suggestions to make the lives of women and young girls better in Ghana. Let us also make it a point to use the 16 Days Campaign platform to educate the public and government about gender-based violence, human rights, and the intersections of political, economic, and social realities. There is no better way to observe 16 Days than by making the impact of the period felt by the people most affected by the issues that the campaign seeks to address.