Thursday, June 16, 2011

Sanitary pads for school girls?

This cause sounds laudable but it is not.

Mrs. Elizabeth Agyeman (MP, Oforikrom, NPP) is arguing for the supply of sanitary pads to school girls so they don't have to miss several days of school every month during their menses. It is unfortunate that some school girls have to miss several days of school every month for such a reason, hence, this should be a cause for concern because of the potential effects on the future of these pupils. This, however, should not lead us to permit government to encroach on domains that have always been and should remain private.

As the MP graphically describes, it is not uncommon to spot girls with soiled school uniforms walking in the street, but that should raise different questions than the ones that seem obvious. The issues that immediately come to mind are the following:

1. Why do we have so many school buildings that do not have sanitary facilities?
2. Girls have always menstruated. Why is this becoming an issue now?
3. Should it be the job of government to intervene in such a manner in the lives of the young girls?

Many classroom blocks or school buildings in Ghana do not come with the necessary accompanying sanitary facilities. This leaves one to wonder what school teachers and their pupils do when nature calls. Whatever the girls use to take care of themselves during their menses, they may have to attend to it during the course of the day. Why isn't anybody asking about the availability of sanitary facilities in the schools? Even if girls had the sanitary pads for which the MP is advocating, they may have to change them during the course of the day. Where in the school building would this take place?

91% of homes in the capital city do not have sanitary facilities. The statistics for other cities are worse. The prevailing culture of negligence encourages contractors who construct school buildings to leave out essential sanitary facilities. Given that most of these schools are public, it is not clear if the government could possibly be serious about tackling such a problem, having perpetrated its root cause for years. The absence of such basic facilities in the vast majority of public schools should suggest to us that the lack of sanitary pads may not be the problem after all.

Also, given that girls have always menstruated it is not clear why this is suddenly becoming an issue. I don't think the MP wants to argue that the sanitary pads she was referring to (ie the ones you can buy in a pharmacy) are the only products one can use to keep themselves hygienic during their periods. Before sanitary pads became commonplace, women and girls were taking care of themselves by other means without any problems. Most of them still take care of themselves without special sanitary pads. The aggregate cost of supplying the special sanitary pads to the girls will far exceed the price of getting responsible inspectors to do their job, ensuring that the contractors who build the schools build the sanitary facilities as well. Maintaining the status quo will lead to a mess in these schools where girls will not be able to find places to properly dispose of their pads, worsening the already appalling sanitary conditions that persists in the schools.

Further, it is not clear that the people the MP wants to help actually want her help. Suppose a sanitary pad costs 1 cedi (~66 cents) and a girl needs three of these per month (= 3 cedis or 2 dollars) then we have to figure out at what income a girl will be willing to buy sanitary pads at such a high cost. About 80% of Ghanaians live on less than 2 dollars a day. If I were a girl who was given 2 dollars a month to use for whatever I would, I definitely wouldn't be spending it on sanitary pads when I have other competing uses for the money: most importantly, food. I would rather stick to a more economical way of taking care of myself and use the money for something else. Since when did it become the job of government to give people products they don't even want?

Alas, all of these considerations will be lost on the policy makers because it is always convenient to be sloppy when spending other people's money. You will hear the mantra: Kenya is doing it so we must too. The government seems to have an infinite reservoir of resources when it comes to implementing policies that sound good on paper, so the usual pleas for compassion will trump any sound analysis of the gross implications.

No comments:

Post a Comment