Youth activists supported by Plan International in Ghana have come together to advocate on an issue that affects every girl and woman in the country – the high cost of buying sanitary pads. On 28 May - Menstrual Hygiene Day, 160 young people presented a petition to the government, calling for tax to be scrapped on sanitary pads.
During the six-month ‘No Pad Tax’ campaign, the youth activists, made up of former sponsored children and beneficiaries of Plan International projects, argued that the scrapping the 20% tax on sanitary pads, currently catergorised as a non-essential luxury item by the Ghana Revenue Authority, will go a long way to address issues related to period poverty.
The lack of affordable menstrual hygiene products, stigmatisation and cultural beliefs surrounding menstruation and menstrual education in rural areas of Ghana, mean that girls miss on average five days of school every month, which is the root cause of gender inequality, child and early forced marriage among other things.
The president of the group, Lilipearl, says the No Pad Tax campaign also aims to raise awareness on the need for good menstrual hygiene health in general, as well as shining a spotlight on the challenges that girls and women face when managing their periods.
“It is really strange that something as normal and regular as menstruation could be a major contributing factor to ruining the future of girls in Ghana. Schoolgirls, especially in rural Ghana, cannot afford sanitary pads because they are expensive and almost inaccessible to them,” she explains. “Absenteeism, teenage pregnancy and school dropouts are the major consequences of menstruation for schoolgirls in Ghana, especially in rural communities.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also placed an additional burden on families, causing incomes to decrease leaving many girls unable to buy pads and having to resort to unhygienic methods such as using old pieces of cloth.
“It is even worse now with COVID-19. Our goal is to get the government to distribute sanitary pads for free, at least to secondary school girls. However, we needed to start somewhere, so we began with a petition to the government to scrap the 20% tax on pads,” says Lilipearl.
The petition also calls for the start of local production of menstrual hygiene products, as most pads are imported from other countries which adds to their high cost.
“By enabling local production, it will not only encourage made-in-Ghana goods, but it will also go a long way to address issues of unemployment, poverty, school dropout, absenteeism and even teenage pregnancies,” explains Xorlali, the vice-president of the youth group who also cites the importance of educating men about menstruation and the psychological effects it has on women, especially when they are period-shamed.
The 24-page petition document, which gives an overview of the problem, statistics, effects and recommendations, was signed by 2,000 concerned citizens from across the country.
Receiving the petition, the Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection, Madam Cynthia Morrison commended the group for the efforts they had taken on their initiative. “We have been working assiduously to get the taxes on sanitary pads scrapped and will work in collaboration with the Finance Ministry on the way forward.”