Accra — Ghana's government plans to use some of its World Bank loans to fund a free sanitary pad program for young girls in poor rural communities to reduce dropout rates.
The initiative is part of a program known as the Ghana secondary school improvement project. Under the plan, $156 million would be used to build community high schools. The rest of the funds would be channeled into a scholarship scheme for students in poor rural communities as well as for free distribution of sanitary pads.
Studies conducted in Ghana show that the provision of free sanitary pads improved school attendance by cutting absenteeism among girls from 21 percent of school days to 9 percent.
Ellen Dzah, a programs manager at non-profit gender advocacy group, Abantu for Development, said in Ghana, more girls enroll at the basic school level but a significant number drop out over time - usually after the onset of menses. Apart from pains associated with menstruation, Dzah said it is the lack of money to buy sanitary pads that keeps girls at home and out of the classroom.
Dzah said female education has been proven to be key in development of any society and this is rightfully a priority for government funding.
"One of the backlash that has faced most of these women is - 'what is your educational qualification'? So education is prime to even getting a voice in our governance processes. Education is pivotal in our development and more specifically for women because research shows that when women are empowered, the economic development of a country also gets better," she said.
Dzah said other benefits of educated girls include fewer teen pregnancies, lower HIV transmission and reduced infant mortality.
More than 10,000 students are expected to benefit under the government's scholarship program.