The Education Ministry says it is unfair for Ghanaians to single out the provision of sanitary pads from the list of items to be provided for needy students because “it begins to look like we just want to focus on the trivia”.
Parliament on Wednesday approved a $156 million loan facility acquired from the World Bank to finance the Ghana Secondary School Education Improvement Project.
The loan among other things will 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 adolescent school girls.
The component to provide sanitary pads has ignited a national conversation about the importance of using a loan to fund such a project when the nation’s economy is facing severe challenges.
Many have also raised questions about the procurement process as well as government’s ability to sustain the project without a loan.
A deputy Education Minister, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, in an interview on the Citi Breakfast Show, disclosed that the National Democratic Congress’ (NDC) 2012 manifesto promised to attend to the “peculiar hygiene needs of the girl child in order to retain them in school.”
He expressed surprise that this very promise in their manifesto “did not generate the excitement which has been generated this time”.
He also pointed out that the decision to allocate a component of the $156 million loan facility to the provision of sanitary pads for adolescent school girls was backed by a series of research and reports.
Referencing a research undertaken by the Oxford University and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on sanitary pads in Ghana, Mr. Ablakwa stated that when adolescent girls are unable to take proper care of themselves during the menstruation period, it affects their confidence, which eventually keeps them out of school.
According to him, although there are more girls in school than boys at the kindergarten level, the numbers drastically reduce as they progress into Junior High School.
He, therefore, stressed the need for a retention mechanism to be put in place for adolescent girls.
Regarding the provision of scholarships for about 10, 000 deprived students, the deputy Education Minister indicated that majority of the beneficiaries will be girls.
The beneficiaries will be given $1, 500 for the three-year duration at the SHS level and it will cover “exam fees, transportation to school, uniforms, house dress and PE kits, school shoes, school bags, exercise books and notebooks, relevant stationery items and sanitary pads for the girls.”
On the issue of sustaining the initiative, the deputy Minister said a lot of discussions have taken place between the government and the World Bank and the President, John Mahama, “has initialed some commitment to that effect.”
He mentioned that just as the school feeding programme has been sustained over the years despite the pull out by the Dutch government, the provision of basic and essential school materials will be sustained.
Mr. Ablakwa further revealed that the country’s Procurement Law will guide the acquisition of the items for onward supply to the beneficiaries.
“All these items will go under international competitive tendering so the international procurement laws, the World Bank procurement rules will also apply so it is not as if this will be done only by the Ministry of Education or government,” he said.