What is Period Poverty?

Period poverty is a term used to describe the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products, such as pads and tampons, due to financial constraints. This lack of access can have significant negative effects on young girls, including missed school days, reduced participation in daily activities, and potential health problems.

Girls who do not have access to menstrual hygiene products may also face stigma and shame, which can affect their mental health and well-being. In addition to the physical and mental health effects, period poverty can also have economic impacts, as girls may miss out on educational opportunities and may not be able to fully participate in the workforce.

There are various initiatives and programs aimed at addressing period poverty and improving access to menstrual hygiene products for girls and women. These initiatives range from providing free or low-cost products, to increasing education and awareness about menstrual health and hygiene.

The Situation in Ghana

In Ghana, menstruation materials are currently classified as “luxury” items and are subject to a 20% import tax. This classification is made by the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), the body responsible for regulating taxes in the country. The GRA categorizes goods into two main categories: luxuries and essentials.

Unfortunately, sanitary pads are considered to be luxurious items and are therefore subject to a 20% import tax and a 12.5% added value tax. This classification is problematic as it makes it more difficult for girls and women to access menstrual hygiene products, which can have negative impacts on their health, education, and well-being.

There is a growing movement in Ghana to challenge the classification of menstrual hygiene products as luxury items and to advocate for more affordable access to these essential products. The high percentage tax on menstruation materials makes the cost of sanitary pads expensive for girls in Ghana. This is particularly problematic in a society where women are often expected to conceal their menstruation. By classifying these products as luxury items, the government is effectively making it more difficult for girls and women to access menstrual hygiene products.

The impact of this tax is particularly significant for families in low-income households. An income report on rural Ghanaian cocoa farmers, for example, estimated a monthly income of GHS 1,464, which is equivalent to about $329. With the added tax on sanitary pads, these families may struggle to afford these essential products.

In many parts of the world, particularly Africa, menstruation is viewed as a source of embarrassment and shame. This tax, which is levied on a process that is inherent to every biologically born woman, is a blatant denial of women’s dignity and a violation of their human rights. The 20% import tax on sanitary pads is unjust and should be addressed. By making these essential products more affordable, we can help ensure that girls and women have the tools and resources they need to manage their menstrual health and participate fully in all aspects of their lives. It can also help combat stigma and shame around menstruation.

It is interesting to note that condoms, which are used by choice, are not subject to a tax in Ghana. In contrast, menstrual hygiene products, which are essential for the health and well-being of girls and women, are considered luxury items and are subject to this 20% import tax. This is despite the fact that menstruation is a natural process that cannot be controlled or avoided by women. The fact that successive governments in Ghana have not addressed this issue and removed the tax on menstrual hygiene products is particularly concerning.

It is clear that citizens contribute to the economy through the payment of taxes. However, women in Ghana can contribute to the country’s growth in many other ways beyond paying taxes on their menstrual cycles. Instead of taxing menstrual hygiene products, the government should consider exempting these products from taxes and classifying them as essential items.

Additionally, the government should consider subsidizing these products in the interest of hygiene and health. The current tax on menstrual hygiene products reflects a lack of gender-inclusive priorities and does not prioritize the health and well-being of girls and women.

Over the years, youth activists in Ghana have been campaigning for the removal of the “luxury” tax on menstrual hygiene products. One major campaign was the six-month-long NOPADTAX campaign. The organizers of the campaign presented the petition to the government on Menstrual Hygiene day, May 28, 2020.

These advocacy efforts are aimed at addressing the unjust tax on menstrual hygiene products and improving access to these essential products for girls and women in Ghana. In response to the advocacy efforts of youth activists, the government of Ghana appeared to promise to address the issue of the tax on menstrual hygiene products. On August 22, 2020, during the launch of the ruling party’s manifesto ahead of the December 2020 elections, Ghana’s vice president, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, indicated that the government would eliminate import duties on sanitary pads to improve health conditions, particularly for girls.

However, three years later, there has been no action on this promise. Rather, the government’s commitment to reducing the cost of menstrual hygiene products and increasing access to these essential items as well as the import tax remains in place and even higher than previously. It is important for the government to follow through on its promise and take action to address the unjust tax on menstrual hygiene products.

On October 28, 2022, three activist organizations joined forces to campaign against the tax on menstrual hygiene products in Ghana. The organizers of this campaign saw this as an important step towards ending period poverty in the country. Despite their efforts, the cost of menstrual hygiene products has skyrocketed. Currently, the cost of these products has more than doubled.

The situation has been made worse by the recent budget and economic policy statement presented to the Ghanaian Parliament on Thursday, November 24, 2022, which hints at an additional increase in the VAT from 12.5% to 12.9%. This means that the cost of sanitary pads would inadvertently also increase This is unacceptable and must be addressed by the government.

Period Poverty Entrenches Gender Inequality

The effects of period poverty and the reinforcement of gender inequality can be seen in various communities around the world. However, in Ghana, for example, girls miss school or drop out altogether because they lack access to menstrual hygiene products. This adversely affects their education and future opportunities, and can have long-term consequences for their lives and their communities.

One of the ways in which period poverty reinforces gender inequality is through the imposition of taxes on sanitary items. These taxes make sanitary pads and tampons more expensive, which can make them less affordable for people who are already struggling financially. This can disproportionately affect women, who are the primary users of these products. In addition, these taxes can create additional financial burdens for women and girls, who may already face economic disadvantages compared to men.

Furthermore, taxes on sanitary items also reinforce negative attitudes and beliefs about menstruation and women’s bodies. These attitudes and beliefs can contribute to the stigma and shame surrounding menstruation, which can prevent women and girls from accessing the products they need and from openly discussing their menstrual health. This further reinforce gender inequalities and create barriers for women and girls.

In addition to the effects on individual women and girls, period poverty can also have broader social and economic impacts. For example, lack of access to menstrual hygiene products can lead to missed work days and reduced productivity, which can have negative effects on the economy. It can also create barriers to gender equality and women’s empowerment, which can have far-reaching consequences for society as a whole.

To limit the numerous negative effects on women and girls, there are various efforts underway to address period poverty and its impacts on gender equality. In some countries, for example, governments are providing free or subsidized access to menstrual hygiene products for low-income individuals. In others, advocacy groups are working to influence governments to make sanitary products readily available and less expensive.

Moving Forward

In order to fully achieve SDGs goal 4 and 6, the prevailing issue of period poverty in Ghana must be thoroughly addressed. There must be efforts to pursue and provide sustained solutions. These include; Education on menstruation and healthy menstrual hygiene management; and the elimination of the import tax on menstruation materials.

Addressing these issues and ensuring that menstrual hygiene products are considered essential, it can help improve the health and well-being of girls and women in Ghana and beyond. This is because reviewing the categorization of sanitary items will go a long way to making it less expensive and readily available to women and girls. This will provide a feasible way to end period poverty in Ghana.

Also, removing the high tax on menstruation materials can help ensure that girls and women have access to affordable menstrual hygiene products and can manage their menstrual health without facing financial barriers.

Cover Photo by: Karolina Grabowska