The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, on Friday defended the scholarship component of the Secondary Education Improvement Project approved by Parliament on July 3.
Under the Project, 10,400 Senior High School (SHS) students, especially girls, over a three-year period, will receive scholarships to ensure that they are supported by the Government of Ghana to remain in school and complete their secondary education successfully.
The Gender Ministry in a statement to the Ghana News Agency in Accra signed by Nana Oye Lithur, the sector Minister, said the project is targeting adolescent girls in SHS and students from low income families.
The Ministry explained that the category of students who will benefit from the scholarship package include self-financing students, disabled students, orphan students, students living with HIV/AIDs and those from Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) households among others.
The Gender Ministry assured the public that the selection of the needy students will be done by an Independent Scholarship Administrator who will apply an agreed upon criteria.
The Gender Ministry, however, expressed concern about the reaction of a section of the public on the inclusion of sanitary pads in the scholarship package for the beneficiary students.
The Ministry noted that concerns raised about why the Government of Ghana should use the taxpayer’s money to procure sanitary pads for girls, are unfortunate; “since evidence has shown, that investing in girls’ education, and ensuring adolescent girls are supported during their first years of sexual maturity has a direct positive impact and increases their chances of staying in school.
“Girls need sanitary care methods that minimize the visibility of puberty by avoiding accidental leakage”.
The Ministry said “basically, some girls stay at home because they lack sanitary protection and towels to avoid staining themselves with blood and getting embarrassed in school and in public.
“Sanitary pads are costly, and some girls and their parents cannot afford to buy them. Some girls have to use rags, mattress stuffing, cut up old clothes and other unorthodox material during menstruation”.
The Gender Ministry noted that Ghana has made significant and impressive progress over the last two decades, in promoting gender equality in access to primary and secondary education.
It said the gross enrollment rate has increased from 93.7 per cent in the 2006/7 academic year, to 105 per cent for the 2012/13 academic year.
In 1997, the Government set up the Girls Education Unit to provide Girls education, and we now have girls’ education officers in each district under the Ghana Education Service.
The Ministry explained that Gender disparities in school enrollment and retention however continue to be in focus…“Menstruation should not be a barrier to an adolescent’s girl’s educational rights in Ghana.
“This is what the Government of Ghana is seeking to address by ensuring needy girls are provided with sanitary pads so they stay in school”.
The Gender Ministry said studies in Ghana and East Africa have shown that girls prefer to use disposable pads during menstruation, and that is why the Government of Ghana has included sanitary pads in the scholarship package for needy girls.
It said “this innovation in Ghana must be supported by all, who seek to promote and ensure that the words of Dr Kwegir Aggey about educating a girl child become a reality.”
The Gender Ministry emphasized that the inclusion of sanitary pad in the scholarship package was based on research conducted by a team of researchers and funded by the Green Templeton College of the University of Oxford, and supported by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship in 2008/9 in Ghana.
The research showed that the provision of free disposable pads, and education about menstruation improved school attendance among girls, and potentially improved retention.
The Ministry also revealed that a study conducted in 2011 showed that menstruation caused Kenyan girls to lose an average of 3.5 million learning days a month. This naturally has implications for education of girls.
UNESCO estimates that one in 10 African adolescent girls miss school during menses, and eventually drops out of school because of menstruation-related issues, such as inaccessibility of affordable sanitary protection interalia.
The Gender Ministry said East Africa is leading the way in providing vulnerable girls with sanitary pads and we must follow and adapt this best practice.
“This practice has been going on in Kenya since 2007. The Kenyan Government, through its Ministry of Education allocated KSSh300 million in its education budget for provision of free sanitary pads to school girls in 2011.
“The Kenyan Ministry of Education plans to provide sanitary pads to all Kenyan school girls. These pads can be produced locally by rural women in Ghana, as is being done by rural Indian women,” the statement stated.
The Gender Ministry noted: “It is remarkable to note that this initiative by the Kenyan Government was as a result of persistent pressure from female Parliamentarians about the plight of Kenyan girls during menstruation”.
The Ministry therefore commended Government, the Speaker, Parliament, Gender Activists and a cross-section of the public, for supporting the bold initiative aimed at enhancing girls education in the country. GNA