Menstrual Hygiene: Why girls use cow dung, leaves, cement papers as sanitary pads

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A menstrual period is vaginal bleeding that occurs at the end of the menstrual cycle. Each month, the female body prepares itself for a possible pregnancy. The uterus develops a thicker lining, and the ovaries release an egg that can be fertilized by a sperm.
If the egg isn’t fertilized, pregnancy won’t occur during that cycle. The body then sheds the built-up uterine lining. The result is a period, or menstruation.

The average female will have their first period between ages 11 and 14. Periods will continue regularly (usually monthly) until menopause, or about age 51. The average menstrual cycle is 24 to 38 days. The typical period lasts four to eight days.
This means that the concept of menstrual hygiene is critical to all and sundry especially females.

However, research has shown that a considerable number of girls from vulnerable homes are unable to practice menstrual hygiene due to several factors. Menstrual Hygiene Management is defined by United Nations as the use of clean menstrual management products to soak menstrual discharge by women that are changeable in privacy as required, with proper access to water, soap and disposal methods.

In a presentation by Coalition of NGOs in Water and Sanitation (CONIWAS) at a virtual commemoration of the Menstrual Hygiene Day 2020 organized by the Ministry of Education and its partners on Thursday, it  was revealed that some girls from poor households in Ghana continue to use ‘unthinkable materials’ as sanitary pads when menstruating.

According to CONIWAS, several girls and families struggle to access menstrual hygiene products. This has worsened as some vulnerable households may have lost their source of income during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The group identified poverty as the underlying cause of girls being compelled to resort to unhygienic menstrual absorbents such as dried cow dung cakes, leaves, newspapers and cement papers to contain menstrual blood.

Sadly, not only are these ‘unthinkable things’  are dangerous to their health, but they are also inconvenient to use and hinder day -to- day activities of girls who use them.
Also, lack of awareness regarding the importance of menstrual hygiene, arising from a lack of education and taboo surrounding menstruation, contributes to the reason why menstruating women do not know the use of menstrual hygiene products. In rural Ghana, where the taboo related to menstrual hygiene is even stronger, many girls are forced to leave school out of fear of public shaming and discomfort.

The result of this is that many women have to deal with menstruation secretly, thus unable to seek for the needed support

If hygienic practices are not followed during menstruation like using hygienic sanitary items, changing pads every 4 hours, washing and drying out reusable sanitary towels properly in the sun and washing hands after handling used sanitary pads; then the chances of getting Urogenital tract infection increases many folds.

Research has shown that there exist five common health risks associated with using unhygienic products such as dried cow dung cakes, leaves, news papers and cement papers to contain menstrual blood. These are Infection of Reproductive Tract, Urinary Tract Infection, Yeast Infections, Hepatitis B Infection and Increased Risk of Cervical Cancer:
Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix or the uterine opening which is predominantly caused by the Human Papilloma Virus.

The World Health Organization states that Cervical Cancer is the most common cause of cancer in the African Region where it accounts for 22% of all female cancers and 12% of all newly diagnosed cancer in both men and women every year. In Africa, 34 out of every 100 000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 23 out of every 100 000 women die from cervical cancer every year. Lack of menstrual hygiene is a major factor that contributes to the development of this disease.

This CONIWAS believes can be controlled when girls practice menstrual hygiene which will ensure menstrual dignity, but how can they practice menstrual hygiene when they cannot afford to buy sanitary pads and would have to resort to using cement papers, graphics, leaves and dry cow dung cakes?

This has necessitated the call for the reduction if not the removal of the 20% import tax on sanitary pads to make them affordable to all to purchase and use as the country strives to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals 3,4,5 and 6.
There is the need to support women and girls to hygienically manage their menstruation in privacy, safety and with dignity. All girls must have the rights to thrive, to learn and grow in confidence.

The Deputy Education Minister, Gifty Twum Ampofo, in her presentation stated that as a country, it is time we prioritize as a policy issue, the easy accessibility of menstrual hygiene products even during pandemics such as COVID-19 by reducing or removing taxes on menstrual products. Gifty Twum Ampofo also called for the provision of equitable toilet facilities which are gender friendly with changing rooms in all schools and government offices.

“Together we can make sure all girls are educated about menstruation. Together we can ensure all women and girls have access to hygienic products. Yes! Together we can create a world where no woman or girl is left behind because of her period. It’s time for action!” she said.

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