Recently I’ve been involved in advocacy works to demand the rights of women and girls in Ghana. Some weeks ago, my colleague and co-lead campaigner Able Delalie sent me a message about why we should work on the luxury tax imposed on sanitary towels in Ghana. I learned about this injustice when Muslimah Mentorship Network organized a #1girl12pad initiative to provide sanitary towels to girls in rural areas.

While working to provide pads in rural communities, we realised that most girls miss school because of their inability to buy pad. In a country where 9 million Ghanaians survive on 5 GHS a day, how do we expect a group of young women to pay 5 GHS for a sanitary towel? Most of these girls rely on philanthropy to get their pads, but the million-dollar question we should be asking ourselves is: how many philanthropists have reached the farthest parts of Ghana?

For each imported sanitary pad, a 20% import charge and 12.5% value added tax are applied, according to the Ghana Revenue Authority’s harmonized system and customs tariff schedules for 2012. 

Bilkis Nuhu Kokroko

Why is this concerning? Pads are important to the development of young girls. Many rural girls are absent from school during their periods. Provision of sanitary pads not only help keep girls in school, they are also considered a human right for promoting the dignity and safety of women and girls (Nancy Miller, PATH, 2018). Consequently, having access to menstrual products is part of the solution for girls’ education and empowerment.

How Period Poverty Affects Girls & Women in Ghana

The #FreeMyPeriodCampaign and #DontTaxMyPeriod campaigns were started recognising the absence of free sanitary towels for young women in Ghana. We believe that the 20% luxury tax and 12.5 % VAT on what is actually a necessity is an injustice, especially as it keeps young girls from going to school. We call on the government to remove the taxes to give people the opportunity to buy these pads at affordable prices. It will also give more girls the chance to walk confidently into a classroom without fear of being shamed for no fault of theirs or for being forced to use less than ideal alternatives like rags, toilet roll, or cement papers.

Research in Ghana by Scott et al., (2009,p. 2) revealed that “educators reported a precipitous drop in girls’ enrolment between primary 6 and junior high school”. The authors asked Ghanaian students the question, “Does menses ever cause you to miss school?”. A significant number of girls responded positively in peri-urban villages, with as much as 95.2% of schoolgirls in rural areas saying yes. The story wasn’t any different for those in the main cities.

Herz and Sperling (2004) found that only 17% of girls in Sub- Saharan Africa proceed to secondary school in Sub-Saharan Africa. There is also evidence linking the onset of menstruation to school dropout (Crofts and Fisher, 2012), and perhaps even accelerating the dropout rate once puberty and menstruation begin (McMahon et all. 2011, p. 2). For these and other reasons, menstrual hygiene was identified as a key intervention for girls’ education as a part of the Millennium Development Goals (Nancy Muller, PATH, 2018).

Sanitary Towels in Ghana Outreach by Muslimah Mentorship Network

From my personal interactions with some girls regarding sanitary towels, I found out that most girls stayed away from school because they didn’t have money to buy sanitary pads. A working mother shared a story of how she used rags from junior high school days until senior secondary school. She further related how she almost resumed using rags after her first emergency C-section birth because she was out of money.

Taking Action On Sanitary Towels for Sustainable Development

Removing taxes on sanitary towels and offering free pads to vulnerable and poor women and girls will help Ghana get a step closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Because really, if anyone wants Ghana to achieve gender equality status, basic necessities like pads should not be taxed by government. This should be made accessible to all and sundry in every nook and cranny of the country. Sanitary pads should be easily accessible – as accessible, if not more, as the ballot papers sent to every nook and cranny of Ghana to elect politicians. Because menstruation and sanitary towels are a necessity, not luxury.

From all our discussions and the aforementioned research, women and girls do not consider menstruation a luxury and honestly cannot continue to pay such high charges for something as essential as sanitary towels. Our #DontTaxMyPeriod and #FreeMyPeriodCampaign initiatives highlight the seriousness of period poverty: there is nothing luxurious about menstruation. Women and girls should not be taxed for money they don’t have to begin with, when they purchase sanitary towels. We call on the Gender Ministry, our parliamentarians and relevant agencies, including those who have spoken up on period poverty in the past, to come together and help us win this fight. Then, we can move to the next item on the table: exploring the possibility of government providing free sanitary pads to girls of a certain age or more women. We also invite you to join us in our campaign by signing this online petition to stop taxation on sanitary towels in Ghana. 

Campaign against taxing sanitary towels in Ghana

Bilkis Nuhu Kokroko is a gender advocate and a lead campaigner for the #DontTaxMyPeriod campaign. She currently runs a blog on motherhood and women’s issues and has led other social justice campaigns in Ghana.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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