Every year, millions of girls all around the world experience their first period. To many, it is a moment of pride as they enter womanhood. For many others, the experience is significantly disruptive. This is especially true for school girls in Ghana, where the start of their period is simultaneously the start of missing 30 to 50 school days each calendar year. Inevitably, these young girls are falling behind in their education quickly. Education for girls in Ghana loses much to this.
One of the greatest obstacles for young girls in Ghana is acquiring sanitary supplies. For those who cannot afford the supplies, choices are limited. Many are left to fend for themselves by using scraps of clothing, fabric or even mud. Due to the risk of being exploited by their needs, many girls choose to stay home and simply avoid the embarrassment. According to a study in 2012 by WaterAid, upwards of 95 percent of the girls surveyed choose against attending during their period each month.
Fortunately, some non-profit organizations have begun tackling this issue of lacking proper sanitary supplies for the young girls in Ghana. The Educational Empowerment Initiative (EEI) has since been distributing free disposable sanitary supplies to school-aged girls within the school systems. As a result, schools have reported a drastic reduction in the number of period-related absences. All it took was distributing feminine hygiene supplies to show the fact that sanitation leads to improved education for girls in Ghana.
Moreover, the program has also sought to provide basic healthcare and reproductive educational classes to the girls as well as train teachers to talk to their students when they may have questions about their seemingly new bodies. Education concerning periods is just as crucial as general studies for girls in places like Ghana. A UNICEF study in 2013 revealed that nearly 48 percent of young girls were completely unaware of menstruation until they had their first experience.
UNICEF and Ghana Education Services (GES) are also pushing for research and improvements through Ghana. These two organizations have partnered together in order to conduct project research on the myths that haunt Ghana’s people regarding menstruation. For example, many believe menstrual blood to be a bad omen and that women are impure during their menstrual cycles. UNICEF and GES are seeking to use their finding to improve ongoing Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) programs in schools. Specifically, UNICEF is focusing on advocating for better Menstrual Hygiene Management throughout the country, hoping it will improve girls’ attendance and retention.
Another real concern for all students in Ghana—not just the girls—is the overall lack of access to sanitation facilities. For some schools, like the Adusa Municipal Assembly Primary School, a couple of pit latrines and one makeshift, semi-open structure is all the students have to use to relieve themselves. Due to the extremely poor conditions of the facilities, many of the students report that they “hold it,” but admit to being unable to concentrate during class. The Ghana WASH project has specifically mentioned that institutional latrine improvements will address some of the girls’ absences, too. A simple extension of privacy and a brief excuse from class allows young girls to take care of themselves without missing a whole day of school.
The entrepreneurial young woman behind EEI, then-15-year old Winnifred Selby is a part of a global movement recognizing how important it is to aid young girls and women in fulfilling their basic needs. By helping the girls and women remain in and prioritize school, the chances they eventually enter and contribute to the workforce grow. Education is a powerful tool that enables people around the world to develop and participate in their local, national and international workforces and communities. Investing in educating women is an investment in improving society. Therefore, what is happening in Ghana is not isolated to Ghana. Improving sanitation is a greater concern for the world at large. As shown by some of the actions of EEI, UNICEF and the WASH projects, improved sanitation often leads to improved education.
– Taylor Elkins