In various African countries, the economic challenges surrounding menstrual health have placed an unaffordable burden on women, particularly those earning minimum wages. A recent investigation conducted by the has shed light on the issue, uncovering the high costs associated with purchasing essential sanitary products.
The study encompassed nine nations across Africa, examining the feasibility of acquiring period-related items in relation to the minimum wage. The results were concerning, with the cost of the most economical sanitary pads surpassing the means of many women.
Among the countries surveyed, Ghana emerged as having the most exorbitant menstrual product prices, forcing women into what is commonly referred to as “period poverty.” This dire situation has sparked the attention of activists who are fervently advocating for change.
Joyce, a 22-year-old Ghanaian, vividly illustrates the hardships endured by countless women. Struggling to afford the necessary supplies during her menstrual cycle, she reluctantly shared, “The only person available to help wants sex before he gives me the money. I have to do it because I need pads for the month,” conveying the desperate measures some women are forced to take.
The investigation revealed that in six of the countries under scrutiny, women earning minimum wage must allocate between 3-13% of their earnings to procure just two packs of sanitary pads containing eight units each—a quantity that many women require monthly.
Joyce, who works as an assistant in a local grocery store, relies on tips to make ends meet while living with a family friend. Previously, she managed to afford the 4.88 Ghanaian cedis (equivalent to 45 US cents or 35 UK pence) required for a pack of sanitary pads. However, a recent surge in government taxes on these products has raised the cost to 20 cedis, rendering them financially out of reach.
This price hike prompted women to stage protests outside Ghana’s parliament in June 2023. Struggling to cope, Joyce resorted to using toilet paper as makeshift pads, but the unsustainable nature of this solution left her feeling trapped. Eventually, she succumbed to sexual demands in exchange for funds to purchase pads. Sadly, Joyce’s plight is just one among many.
To compile its findings, the utilized the minimum statutory wage in each of the countries examined, coupled with the lowest-priced locally available sanitary pads. Ghana emerged as the country with the highest relative expense for these products in relation to monthly income.
In Ghana, the research highlighted that a woman earning a minimum wage of $26 per month would have to allocate $3, or roughly one-seventh of her earnings, to obtain two packs of sanitary towels containing eight pads each. This equates to spending 11 cedis for pads from an 80 cedis monthly income.
By contrast, women in countries like the US or UK face considerably lower costs. For instance, minimum wage earners in the US would spend just $3 out of a $1,200 income.
Francisca Sarpong Owusu, a researcher at the Center for Democratic Development (CDD) in Ghana, emphasized that due to financial constraints, many vulnerable girls and women are resorting to using cloth rags lined with plastic sheets, cement paper bags, and dried plantain stems during menstruation, as disposable sanitary towels remain beyond their means.