Accra, Ghana – Menstrual poverty worsens with inflation crisis as girls trade sex for pads or risk infection by using rags, leaves and cow dung

  • Inflation is pushing up the prices of vintage goods across Africa
  • More and more girls are skipping school and using unsafe options
  • Campaign members are calling for the abolition of taxes and an increase in the number of menstrual cups

After being shamed for blood stains on her uniform, Ghanaian student Juliet Opoku misses about a week of school every month because her farmer parents can no longer afford pads.

The price of menstrual pads has more than doubled to 12 Ghana cedis ($1.43) from 5 cedis last year in the West African country, where inflation is about 32%, forcing poor families like Apoku to focus on buying food, not hygiene.

“I miss school because one day I soiled my uniform and the boys teased me. It affected my confidence,” Apoku, 15, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Ghana’s southern Ashanti region.

“Sanitary pads are very expensive … I sometimes use toilet paper, baby diapers or cloth during my period,” added Opoku, who wants to become a nurse.

A global challenge of rising inflation has pushed up the cost of menstrual pads in many African countries, pushing more girls out of school or into unhygienic alternatives that can cause infections and infertility, health experts and charities say.

The price of a pack of menstrual pads increased by 117% in Zimbabwe and 50% in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the year to April compared with January, ActionAid International, which campaigns for women’s and girls’ rights, found.

Charities say it could have dire consequences for millions of African girls – affecting their education, health and dignity, forcing them to have sex with older men – and ultimately worsening gender inequality.

“As prices continue to rise, our main concern is that women will forgo spending on health care, such as medicine and hygiene products, in favor of food and other things to support their families,” said Suganya Kimbrough of Catholic assistance services.

“This can have a huge impact on girls attending school and women earning a living,” said Kimbrough, deputy director of program quality in East Africa, adding that families are also missing out on food and selling livestock. to cope.


Menstrual poverty, often defined as inadequate access to menstrual hygiene information, products and toilets, is common in much of sub-Saharan Africa. Faced with stigma, girls often skip classes and may even drop out of school altogether.

In Kenya, a study sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found that 65% of women and girls cannot afford pads, and only 32% of rural schools have private spaces, such as toilets, where girls can change pads for periods.

The United Nations estimates that one in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa misses school during menstruation, which can account for up to 20% of the school year.

Even when these girls graduate, they are likely to fall behind boys their age, exacerbating existing inequalities in educational attainment, campaigners say.

Health experts say that when girls use makeshift alternatives such as paper, old rags, leaves and even dried cow dung, they risk reproductive and urinary tract infections.

“Girls can contract common bacterial infections from using pieces of cloth,” said Anita Asamoah, an independent health advocate.

“If not treated properly, these infections can later lead to pelvic inflammatory disease or infertility.”

Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries that can make it difficult to get pregnant and increases the chance of an ectopic pregnancy in the fallopian tubes.

Lacking money for pads, some girls have sex with older men, perpetuating a cycle of dependency and exploitation that can lead to unwanted pregnancy and early motherhood.

“The men involved them in sex in exchange for sanitary pads,” said Ajoa Nyanteng Yeni, who works on adolescent sexual health at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Ghana.

“Many girls became victims of teenage and unplanned pregnancy.”

Research by the Kenya Institute of Medical Research and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in rural western Kenya found that 10% of 15-year-old girls surveyed had sex with men to obtain menstrual products.


Activists are calling on African countries to scrap taxes on disposable products – often called the tampon tax in the West – to make them more affordable. Only a few countries such as Kenya, Rwanda and South Africa have done so.