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African Organizations Tackle 'Period Poverty'

FILE - A Cameroonian refugee seamstress who produced reusable sanitary pads made with local fabrics shows how reusable pads are made in her workshop in Nigeria on January 26, 2022
FILE - A Cameroonian refugee seamstress who produced reusable sanitary pads made with local fabrics shows how reusable pads are made in her workshop in Nigeria on January 26, 2022

Every month, young girls around the world are forced to miss school days due to menstruation. But some organizations in Africa are working to provide sustainable, healthy solutions.

In Afari, a remote town in Ghana’s Ashanti State, schoolteacher Amdiya Abdul-Latiff found an innovative solution to the common but rarely discussed problem, after noticing her female students were regularly absent from class.

"When I started teaching in this school in Afari town, I discovered that many female students do not come to school when they are menstruating due to period poverty," Latiff said.

Abdul-Latiff founded Eco-Me Africa, a reusable sanitary pads production facility to offer her students products for free.

Period poverty, Abdu Latif said, is a term commonly associated with lack of access to sanitary pads or cleaning products. This pushes young girls to miss school during the time of the month that they menstruate.

A 2022 report by the U.N. estimated that 1 in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their period or eventually drop out altogether.

In Juba, a South Sudanese nonprofit organization, Arise Africa, says many girls and young women in the country also cannot afford sanitary pads as many South Sudanese live below the poverty line.

The youth-led organization is working to open the first-ever menstrual health center in Juba, focused on facilitating conversations about sexual and reproductive health and providing women and girls with sanitary pads.

"We are targeting not only the young girls but also the parents because we want to break the stigma. We want mothers and parents to be able to talk to their kids and prepare them for this transition because we see that this is disrupting the life of young girls," Gloria Albert Pitia, Arise Africa executive director, said.

Pitia said the menstruation health center will be free and accessible to all women and girls.

Minagano Kape, a South Sudanese poet and author of "Uncaging," said she is pledging 50% of her book sales to help reduce period poverty in South Sudan.

She is supporting the efforts by Arise Africa.

"Period poverty also goes beyond just the ability to access sanitary products but also access to basic information about period is very crucial," Kape said.

Health experts and charities have pointed the global problem of spiraling inflation as pushing up the cost of pads in many African nations, driving more girls out of school or to unhygienic alternatives that can cause infections and infertility.

The price of a packet of pads had increased by 117% in Zimbabwe and 50% in the Democratic Republic of Congo by April 2022 compared to January 2022, according to ActionAid International.

Last year, the cost of pads more than doubled to 12 Ghanaian cedis ($1.43) from 5 cedis and Ghana increased its value-added tax (VAT) on pads, which the Ghanaian Revenue Authority categorizes as luxury items.

For Abdu Latif, it was important that her reusable sanitary pads were easy to clean and environmentally friendly.

"We are using organic sustainable fabric to make these pads. We don’t add any kind of chemical. The materials we are using are antimicrobials. The pads are reusable, users can wash and dry them after use. It’s affordable, healthy and also good for the environment," Abdul Latiff told VOA.

Students say the free sanitary pads have had a major impact.

"I am going to feel comfortable going to school and I really like it very, very much," student Beatrice Awuni said.

Reporters Juliana Siapai and Hamza Adams contributed to this report. Some information came from Reuters.