Sanitary Pads for Girls: The Need for a Government Policy to Make Sanitary Pads Available in All Schools

[By Mamudou Jallow]

Did you know that there is something called Period poverty? According to the UK’s Independent newspaper, the term refers to “lack of access to sanitary products.” Apparently the inaccessibility of sanitary products has far-reaching consequences on the lives of women than we’ve ever imagined.

According to a recent scientific study conducted in the UK, women who do not have access to sanitary products during their menstrual cycles are more at risk to suffer from anxiety or depression and are more likely to grow up with financial difficulties and troubled love lives.

Here in the Gambia, I have not yet seen similar studies that are locally focused, but with my many years working in Junior and Senior Secondary schools, I know the problems associated with the lack of access to sanitary products are too big to continue to brush under the carpet. I believe that it has taken far too long for school administrators in our male dominated educational systems to come up with ways to handle the issue with the urgency it deserves.

For far too long, discussions about menses have been seen as a bloody subject that is better kept away from public forums. Our cultural norms aside, it is evident that male teachers and male school administrators are not equipped to handle a girl on menses. We’ve been programmed to look the other way while a girl on menses fends for herself.

In the absence of a national policy to deal with the menstruation of the girl child within our schools, girls are forced to ‘have each other’s back’ in the situation where the cycle comes down on one of them. I have been made aware of several instances where friends come to the aid of a colleague with not so clean pieces of cloth and even newspapers to help keep the blood flow in check. Rags and newspapers may be OK when handling a greasy car engine but not a young woman’s menses.

For far too long we’ve left our school girls at the mercy of this natural phenomena, but it is time that something is done now to help them get through their periods without any burden whatsoever.

Suggested Solutions

#1.Cultural Re-orientation Regarding Menstruation

The lid on menses must once and for all be taken off. There is need to reeducate all school children both boys and girls as well as teachers and school administrators that menstruation is a natural occurrence in women and therefore nothing to be ashamed of. We must remove all the stigmatization that is currently associated with the phenomenon, and this must start first within the schools.

#2.Availability of Sanitary Products in all Schools

Government, through the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE), must provide enough sanitary products that will meet the needs of our female children in all public schools. Government must ensure that private schools allocate a budget specifically for the provision of sanitary products to their female students.

#3.Countrywide Campaigns

All sensitization programs relating to menses and the provision of sanitary products must be extended to rural areas as well especially the very remote parts of the country. Additionally, all such efforts must not only be confined to English schools but rather to Arabic schools and boarding Madrasas as well.

Conclusion

The fight to give every girl child unfettered access to sanitary products when they require them should be everybody’s fight. Parents must push the agenda through their school Parents and Teachers Associations (PTAs), and schools must push their line ministry for action on the matter.

We must fight for our girls especially knowing that lack of access to sanitary products shames our young women to the extent that they resort to isolating themselves. Scientific studies have now made it known that the repercussions from such shame and isolation may make it hard for such girls to socialize and in the long run the problem may lead to challenges in nurturing lasting relationships. We owe our girls better. Now is the time to make our voices hard on this very important matter.

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