Dr. Stella Nyanzi wrote on her Face Book wall: “Considering that the police officers will interrogate me about my social media posts critiquing Janet Kataaha Museveni for shamelessly declaring in parliament that there is no money to buy sanitary pads for Uganda’s poor daughters who stay out of school during their menstruation, I have decided to use this visit to CID to collect sanitary pads for Uganda’s poor girls. We will collect these sanitary pads and distribute them to rural-poor students. Let us liberate ourselves by sanitizing our poor daughters of Uganda.”
One applauds Dr. Nyanzi for her advocacy on behalf of the thousands of girls who are genuinely and truly unable to afford sanitary towels. Indeed, every little bit of help that contributes towards provision of sanitary pads counts. All the pads and materials that Dr. Nyanzi’s appeal will mobilise will most certainly be greatly appreciated.
Now, considering that it is normal that from her early teens to 50+ years, a woman goes through menstruation every month. Which means that if one is going to provide women with sanitary towels, the costs of the towels has to be factored in as part of running costs, similar to the cost of toilet paper. A one-off gift in one month is good, but there has to be more constant supply in the longer-term, if the objective is to ensure that girls do not stay home from school because they are menstruating.
Growing up as a menstruating teenager in the 1980s, yes, many girls that I know were not able to afford sanitary towels. As a matter of fact, sanitary towels were so expensive then, that it seemed that only those with relatives in the Diaspora had access to sanitary towels. Many girls used to use toilet paper.
If one is not mistaken, even toilet paper is not given free in the majority of schools in Uganda. Is toilet paper more expensive than sanitary towels or vice versa? In our days toilet paper was cheaper and it was a good substitute.
Requiring the Government of Uganda (GoU) to provide free sanitary towels at all cost is a demand that takes us all on a slippery slope, moreover one with double edged swords on both sides.
Ghana for example took a LOAN from the World Bank in order to procure sanitary pads for free distribution. A LOAN to buy sanitary pads is among the worst decisions one can make, economically speaking. Sanitary pads are not income generating, so where is Ghana going to get the money to pay back the loan? A logical explanation is through taxation and who gets hit with a higher tax bill?
Now, add the high possibility that the BORROWED funds can be misappropriated (in other words stolen and diverted to personal use), one tends to buy the opinion a Ghanaian Economist on the matter of his government’s ‘free sanitary pads project’. Franklin Cudjoe wrote on his Face Book Wall:
Much as I agree that sanitary pads are needed by school pupils, (I have seen a 16- year old female classmate of mine in secondary school ‘bleed’ menstrually in public in 1992 in a male-dominated seminary and it wasn’t pretty. But then such sensitive matters MUST be dealt with by parents and not GOVERNMENTS. I’m very sure funds for this could be gravely abused as we did with laptops for kids without educational content. The scholarship fund of $15m is great, but it MUST never be managed by the Scholarship Secretariat, neither should it be managed by the special desk at the seat of government, the Flagstaff House. The World Bank should cede the scholarship fund to a private body, specialized private body made up of important CSOs in education and businesses to invest the fund and professionally choose needy recipients.
The ‘free sanitary pad project’ if it were implemented in Uganda as pledged by the ruling party, will likely costs Ugandans, the tax payers, more than it should. This does not mean that the GoU is off the hook. Uganda needs to think long term and ask why it does not have sufficient toilet paper and sanitary pad making capacity in-country; capacity that would make toilet paper and sanitary pads affordable for all.