Researchers have documented a worrying trend in Africa where young girls indulge in transactional sex in order to meet their menstruation needs. In Kenya for instance, it is reported that incidents of sex for pads resulted in a high record of teenage pregnancies between January and May, 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown.
It is a fact that the economic downturn resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic compounded the existing situation of parents’ inability to provide basic hygiene essentials, more importantly sanitary pads to adolescent girls, exposing them to be “preyed on by older men in exchange for money to meet such needs”.
This report resonates with the situation in Ghana and some less developed regions of the world.
Ghana’s National Population Council (NPC) recently bemoaned how men in the Northern region are sexually exploiting adolescent girls in exchange of cash for sanitary pads. This disturbing development, according to the NPC, has led to the spike in teenage pregnancies in parts of the region.
It is on the back of this among other menstruation matters that the Australian High Commission, Ghana garnered support from the US Embassy, Italian Embassy and the Embassy of Mexico in Ghana to support an initiative that seeks to address the basic menstruation needs of young girls in the Volta Region.
The Australian High Commission, Ghana joined forces with menstrual hygiene advocate and journalist, Selorm Helen, and a team of Ghanaian youth to implement ‘The Period Aid Project’.
The first event under the project came off as scheduled on World Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021at Agbozume in the Ketu South Municipality of the Volta Region.
Secretary of the Spouses of the Heads of Missions and Diplomats in Accra, Rachael Andrews, the Keynote Speaker at the event highlighted certain taboos that discriminate against women and girls when they are menstruating.
“It is believed when girls are in their period they are unclean, dirty and not as good as boys. Some girls can’t go to church, some girls have to leave the village and sleep outside, some girls can’t cook for their family because they are seen as dirty,” Mrs. Andrews reveals as she addresses the gathering on the theme, ‘Menstruation and Stigma: The Impact on Girl Child Education and the Female Empowerment Agenda’.
She reiterated that “menstruation is normal and part of a woman’s life”.
According to the wife of the Australian High Commissioner, Gregory Andrews, myths surrounding menstruation are still dominant despite the progressive changes in gender equality.
She blamed the lack of acceptance of menstruation as a natural phenomenon on inadequate knowledge and understanding of what it means to menstruate and encouraged girls to “bleed with pride”.
Member of Parliament for Ketu South, Abla Dzifa Gomashie who stormed the event grounds unannounced also advised the girls to embrace menstruation as a natural change that is crucial to a woman’s reproductive health.
The education enthusiast used the occasion to advocate for action against period shame and called for more investment in Menstrual Hygiene and Health.
“When you start menstruating and you sleep with men, you will get pregnant and that will affect your education. As children, do what is expected of you and not what is meant for married adults. If not, you will regret any irresponsible actions you take,” the legislator further warned the girls against sexual activities.
His Excellency Gregory Andrews, the Australian High Commissioner to Ghana, who was keenly involved in the project and the menstrual hygiene day event, strongly preached against outdated perceptions about menstrual blood and women in general when they are in their menses.
He said, eliminating such taboos is critical to lifting the barriers that marginalize women and obstruct their overall development.
The High Commissioner is convinced that the realization of sustainable development goals depends also on the prioritization of women and girls’ health and education needs.
He commended his colleague diplomats and heads of mission at the US Embassy, Embassy of Mexico and the Italian Embassy in Ghana for generously contributing to the fight against period poverty in Ghana.
“I am here on behalf of the Embassy of the United States, Embassy of Mexico and the Embassy of Italy because they brought a lot of these (sanitary pads). These are really important,” H.E Gregory Andrews acknowledges key stakeholders who made donations to support the Period Aid Project.
The ‘Period Aid Project’ Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021 event attracted about One Thousand (1,000) students including boys, from four schools; Agbozume Sukladzi R/C, Logove A.M.E Zion, Klikor Unity number 1 & 2, Lotakor E.P Basic School.
As part of activities to mark the day, a colorful procession was held under the escort of Police officers through some major streets of Agbozume and Klikor to raise awareness on menstrual taboos, the significance of destigmatizing menstruation and hygiene practices.
To climax the day, there was a practical demonstration of how to properly fix sanitary pads and safely remove and dispose them off after use. Male teachers, male students, and their female counterparts took their turns to compete in the pad lining activity.
Aside from the menstrual hygiene education, targeted girls numbering over 500 received supply of sanitary pads to cater for the rest of the academic term, in the bid to reduce menstruation induced absenteeism.
‘The Period Aid Project’ is a promising initiative that seeks to offer support to adolescent girls through menstrual hygiene promotion, sanitary products supply, and campaigns for behavioral change and policy action against exclusion of menstruating girls and women from social participation.
Agbozume-Klikor was strategically chosen for the first project because of it is a typical traditional setting dominated by taboos and powerful shrines that are feared by many Ghanaians including indigenes of the community.
In future, the project would extend to other rural communities across Ghana through partnerships and donor support.