SAN JOSE, California — The Parliament of Ghana has approved a $156 million USD loan from the International Development Association to fund the Ghana Secondary School Education Improvement Project. The loan will provide free school supplies, sanitary pads for adolescent female students, scholarships for students in very poor communities and, as part of the government’s plan to build 200 new secondary schools, will cover the construction of 23 new senior high schools.
The project’s scholarship component will include items such as school bags, school sandals, pencils and sanitary pads for female students. The inclusion of sanitary pads has attracted abundant criticism, controversy and overwhelmed media as the sole talking point of the loan, with many asking, “Why do we have to take out a loan just to buy sanitary pads? Can we not afford pads for our daughters with our own budget?”
Heated debates went on in the Chambers as several members of the Minority could not fathom why the nation needed to borrow from the IDA to provide sanitary pads to its girls, questioning the project’s sustainability and relevance at a time when the national economy is severely struggling.
A deputy Education Minister, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, defended the decision over sanitary pads, citing that the National Democratic Congress’ 2012 manifesto had promised to look after the “peculiar hygiene needs of the girl child in order to retain them in school.” Girls often miss up to five days of school a month when they menstruate because they lack the proper feminine supplies while schools also lack adequate infrastructure for girls.
Ablakwa stressed that attending to adolescent girls’ needs is a necessary retention mechanism – while there are more girls than boys in school during kindergarten, the girls’ numbers drastically reduce as they hit puberty in junior high school. He also cited the research done by Oxford University that clearly established that the provision of pads reduced absenteeism from about 21 percent to 9 percent.
The debate over the inclusion of sanitary pads has become a focal point of public and political opinion since the announcement of the loan. Former presidential candidate of the People’s National Convention and gynecologist, Edward Nasigiri, weighed in on the matter by denouncing the distribution of free sanitary pads as a path to corruption, saying that although “the intentions of the promoters of the project may be good, there will be a lot of abuses and the money may end up not doing what they intended it to do.” He also believes that the government would have found it more profitable to invest part of the loan in health and sex education.
Similarly, a public health practitioner, Maame Yaa Bomsomtwe, proposed distributing menstrual cups as cost-effective, hygienic, sustainable, and environmentally sound alternative to sanitary pads.
The scholarship component of the loan will provide for about 10,000 deprived students, the majority of whom will be girls. The beneficiaries will receive $1,500 for three years at the senior high school level, which will cover “exam fees, transportation to school, uniforms, house dress and PE kits, school shoes, school bags, exercise books and notebooks, relevant stationery items and sanitary pads for the girls.”
Aside from the controversial provisions of the loan, the funds will also go toward upgrading 75 existing schools and expanding 50 existing schools that are overcrowded to increase their admission capacity.
The financing agreement between the IDA and the government of Ghana will increase gender and geographical equity by providing for female and especially deprived students. The agreement will also improve the quality of senior high schools.
– Annie Jung
Sources: The World Bank, The World Bank, Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, citifmonline, Business News