Gov’t’s free sanitary pad policy: Two studies confirm its inefficacy

Two studies by researchers at Oxford University, University of Chicago and the University of Michigan have lend credence to wide condemnations against government’s policy to distribute free sanitary pads to girls in rural areas.

Emily Oster from the University of Chicago, and Rebecca Thornton from University of Michigan, in a research paper titled: “Menstruation, sanitary products and school attendance: Evidence from a randomized evaluation” echoes views of some of the critics of the policy — which has been described as “absurd” by the likes of Atik Mohammed, Peoples National Convention’s policy analyst.

A 2009 study by the Oxford University, titled “Impact of providing sanitary pads to poor girls in Africa” also suggests, among other things, “that distributing either sanitary pads or puberty education through the schools was, at least in Ghana, entirely inappropriate because it contributes to the already high risk of in-school sexual abuse when teachers are mostly males.”

Ghana’s Parliament last Wednesday approved a 156 million dollar World Bank loan facility to finance the Ghana Secondary School Education Improvement Project.

The loan will among other things be used to fund the construction of community Senior High Schools across the country, provide scholarships for students in deprived communities and the distribution of free sanitary pads to school girls.

The policy has met with stiff opposition by many media commentators and policy analysts with some questioning government’s priority in efforts to accelerate the growth of Ghana’s educational sector.

The Ministry of Education has, however, justified the policy, insisting the distribution of the sanitary pad is to prevent school dropouts.

Although the World Bank also supports the idea that a cost-effective way to keep school girls from dropping out in poor countries is to help provide them with sanitary products, researchers Emily Oster and Rebecca Thornton object to the idea noting, “existing evidence is largely from anecdotes and self-reported survey data”.

They sum up their findings in the abstract to the study: “First, menstruation has a very small impact on school attendance: we estimate that girls miss a total of 0.4 days in a 180 day school year.

“Second, improved sanitary technology has no effect on reducing this (small) gap: girls who randomly received sanitary products were no less likely to miss school during their period. We can reject (at the 1% level) the claim that better menstruation products close the attendance gap.”

Also, the Oxford University research says: “While our inquiry showed that sanitary provisions may have a heretofore unrecognized significance for female education in the developing world, we do wish to caution that we also found a complex of other factors clearly at work.

“Though even these would require further study to confirm, we inferred, from all our conversations and observations, that the onset of menstruation, as an event in itself, puts the girls at educational risk. As a proxy indicator for adulthood and a traditional announcement of a girl’s sexual availability, menarche brings on an array of negative practices, including sexual harassment (even from teachers), withdrawal of economic support from the home, and sudden pressure to marry, to take a boyfriend (for economic reasons), or to leave the community to find work (and thus hazard the risk of falling into slavery or prostitution).

“So community engagement efforts should continue to support the girls’ education after menstruationand protecting menstruating girls from sexual harassment should become a policy focus.”

Click on the links below to read the entire research:

LINK 1: Oster and Thornton (2010)
LINK 2: Oxford University research

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