Every 11th October is observed as International Day of the Girl Child, one of the very important days on the calendar of the world; a day set aside to liberate, honour, and celebrate women’s dignity while acknowledging girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. J Initiative (JI) launched the project dubbed -The Happy School Girl Project (HSGP)-to promote menstrual hygiene for girls. We believe that adolescent girls have the right to education, and healthy life at these critical formative years, if they can mature into women. However, girl’s menstrual hygiene and health is a critical step towards achieving these goals.
This is one of the reasons why we are happy with the recently launched Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) number five. A key element, which leads to girls’ empowerment, is menstruation; sadly this subject is often neglected in discussions of sanitation and hygiene. Some people have alluded to the fact that many of the policy makers are males who do not simply understand what it feels like to have a monthly period and have ever considered questions around menstruation.
Menstruation is a natural process occurring in young women the world over. However in many cultures and communities, this natural occurring event is met with shame, embarrassment and is considered a taboo. As a result, girls and women are faced with barriers in relation to their menstrual health and hygiene.
The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rightly puts it, “The newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals rightly include key targets for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. They offer an opportunity for a global commitment to breaking inter-generational transmission of poverty, violence, exclusion and discrimination – and realizing our vision of a life of dignity for all.”
This goes to suggest that World leaders are poised for action and these actions are expected to translate into every young person’s life in each member country, including Ghana. Adolescent girls have the right to a safe, educated, and healthy life, not only during their formative years which is taken to be critical, but also as they mature into women. This implies that if a girl is effectively supported during the adolescent years, girls have the potential to change the world – both as the empowered girls of today and as tomorrow’s workers, mothers, entrepreneurs, mentors, household heads, and political leaders. The investments made in girls today will guarantee equitable and prosperous future, one in which half of humanity is an equal partner in solving the problems of climate change, political conflict, economic growth, disease prevention, and global sustainability.
The significant progress made over the last 15 years by the global community for the girls of this generation at the early childhood level must be sustained. In 2015, most of these girls are more likely to enroll in primary school.
As the global community launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for implementation over the next 15 years, it is a good time to recognize the achievements made in supporting young girls, while at the same time aspiring to support the current and upcoming generation of adolescent girls, to truly fulfil their potential as key actors in achieving a sustainable and equitable world.
However, there has been insufficient investment in addressing the challenges girls face when they enter the second decade of their lives. This includes obtaining quality secondary and higher education, avoiding child marriage, receiving information and services related to puberty and reproductive health, and protecting themselves against unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and gender-based violence.”
At the launch of the SDGs, all member countries including Ghana, were entreated to commit to putting adolescent girls at the centre of sustainable development efforts by making some critical investments in their present and future and one of those critical investment is menstrual hygiene management. J.Initiative considers the call timely and wish to add that the Government of Ghana and other stakeholders should also consider the following actions:
Girls need private and secure areas in institutions to change their menstrual pad, clean water to wash them and support from their female and male peers to not feel ashamed about the natural occurring process of menstruation. Educating girls, as well as boys, about the menstrual cycle is the first step in breaking down these barriers. It is only by starting the conversation about menstruation that the taboo will be broken, and it can cease to be a barrier to young women around the world.
Reduction in taxes on women’s hygiene products in would make them affordable to the girls, especially rural girls in Ghana. About 30 percent tax component on a disposable or reusable sanitary product shoots up the price making it difficult for suppliers to bring the product hence the high demand for the very few in the system, your guess is as good as mine.
‘The Happy School Girl’ Project launched by J Initiative in 2014, involves holding workshops and teaching schoolgirls to make and sew their own reusable menstrual pads. When schoolgirls are taught to sew their own reusable, sustainable, washable menstrual pads, they become empowered to take control of their menstrual health and hygiene matters, and in turn and pass this new found skill on to their sisters, thus removing even more barriers that block other schoolgirls access to education. These are all small steps in breaking down the barriers that surround menstrual health and hygiene matters and towards achieving goal 5 of the SDGs.
Support to girls to maintain good hygiene during menstruation is important for a girl’s well-being, freedom of movement, and dignity. This freedom is what we advocate for in Ghana by agreeing with Archana Patker that “”Safe menstrual management is made up of three interrelated important pieces: breaking the silence through discourse, information and respect for the female body; safe and adequate places to wash, clean, change materials; and safe and dignified disposal of used menstrual materials,” Therefore WASH programs in schools are not holistic if they do not address the needs of Menstrual Hygiene Management.
We therefore call on all stakeholders working in the WASH sector to consider Menstrual Hygiene Management in the Wash in Schools (WinS) programs, government should reduce tax on the sanitary products used by girls and finally let’s reinforce positive messages with boys and girls together, about a wide range of topics including menstruation, prevention of early pregnancy, early marriage and personal hygiene.