Featured Storyteller

GHANA: Reusable Pads a Sustainable Solution for Girls

Lisbeth
Posted May 27, 2019

Lisbeth A. Salifu knows from experience that managing menstruation in Ghana is a challenge, especially for girls. Reusable pads, she says, will help.

“The stigma attached to menstruation has made our girls shy. They want to handle things on their own and in secret.

I remember the day vividly; I always laughed over it. How my first period came seemed so strange to me at the time. I was 14 years old, and it was the weekend. My friends and I had just finished playing and resolved to climb a mango tree to pick some of its fruit.

In the middle of the climbing and the picking, I felt something like urine, but not urine, flowing into my pants. For some time I tried to ignore it, but the more I ignored it the more came. Eeii! You sisters know what I’m talking about. As the feeling intensified, I decided to look. Low and behold there was dark-colored blood staring at me. Seeing this I screamed, “It’s blood!” drawing the attention of my friends who then all came running toward me.

In typical childhood style, a circle was formed, and I was placed in the middle. At age 14 I was the eldest; if I couldn't figure out what it was, then who could? I remember one of my friends telling me that I was sick and should go home. As we all contemplated the cause of this sudden illness, one of our boy schoolmates overheard us. He was a little older than me and came to my rescue. He said, “Go home and tell your mother. You are not sick.” What a relief it was to hear I was not sick! Straightaway I headed home, faster than ever.

As soon as I arrived, my mother could see what had happened. My dress was already soaked with blood. Quickly she called me, “Come, and can I see your dress?” I stood murmuring about how it had happened. I asked her if I was sick, and she said “no,” just as the schoolboy had.

Then she told me to go and fetch water and shower, and when I finish showering, I should come to her so she can dress me. Eeii! Dress me? A 14-year-old girl? (My eyes were rolling.) “But I always dress myself,” I replied. She ignored me but shouted, “Get away, you are smelling!” Ha! It was true—I was beginning to smell. I could smell it myself. I began to worry again that something was wrong. “But what could it be?” I asked myself. Only time would tell. I did as she commanded.

When I returned, I saw my mother had torn a clean rag into pieces. She told me to wear the rags in my pants and to place them where the blood was coming. She also gave me extra rags and asked me to replace the first ones once they were soaked. In that moment, I realized this was not going to be just a one-day event. She continued, telling me to wash the rags and hang them under the sun to dry thoroughly. I took her advice in good faith, and that was it. I kept washing and changing rags for almost nine whole days, and then one day, the bleeding stopped.

I remember being so glad when it stopped. I told my mother, and all she said was “Don't worry when it comes again.” I said, “Okay,” shyly and left. 

It was after a week or two that my class at school had a lecture about menstruation. Our teacher told us about how an egg is released from our ovaries each month to travel to the uterus through one of our fallopian tubes; how the lining of the uterus ultimately sheds if the egg is not fertilized; and that finally, it is this shedding that is our “period,” or menstrual cycle.

With this lecture, and this new knowledge, I felt the greatest relief. It was then I began to appreciate my period when it came. I felt proud that at last I could be referred to as a woman. Even with all the challenges I faced when it came, I was happy that it did.

I must admit, though, that when I started having my period my school attendance dropped. This was due to the cramps that accompanied it, and also that fact that I did not want to soak myself during lectures. I would stay home the first few days of my period, when it was heavier, and between the fifth and seventh days, I would muster the courage and go to school. But I would leave for home early, between mid-morning and noon.

I also learned about the cultural impact of having a period. In my family, when a woman is on her period she is exempt from cooking for the family. So, when it was my turn to cook, if it was during my period week, I would be exempt. Initially, I thought this practice was out of love for me. I thought it was so I could rest because I was in pain. However, I soon learned it was actually because during her period a woman is considered very dirty and too unclean to cook and feed others. I couldn’t believe it! This myth persists in Ghana today.

Recently, a BBC reporter made a documentary about menstruation and the girl-child in Ghana. I was shocked to hear that in one of the districts of the eastern region, it was taboo for girls on their period to cross a particular river in order to get to school. This river was considered a small god, and the belief was that it would be made dirty by girls crossing it while on their period.

I asked myself, why should the fertility of a girl child be taboo? Children are a blessing from God, they say. Even the Bible agrees with this statement, so why should God’s blessing be a curse or be dirty? To date I am still seeking the answers to these questions.

The stigma attached to menstruation has made our girls shy. They want to handle things on their own and in secret when it comes to their periods. Some parents also shy away from discussing menstruation with their daughters. They think teaching their girl child about menstruation and sex will “spoil” her—that she will explore the secret of making babies and go after men. On the contrary, sex and menstruation education will protect her. It will give her information on how to prevent pregnancy and why she should abstain from sex.

Around my senior year in high school, I started using disposable pads. To this day I do not like the way we dispose of them, especially considering the poor hygiene systems in our part of the world. Some burn them, but due to the liquid absorbed, they are hard to burn. Others flush them down the toilet, but with the lack of good potable water in Africa, the result is water wasted. In the end, the pads are thrown all over. We do not have a good way to dispose of them.

Also, disposable pads are expensive in Ghana for an ordinary schoolgirl. Every month each girl must budget 5 GHS—the equivalent of 1 USD—for pads.

When I joined World Pulse, I learned about a reusable pad that is very easy to use. It’s one of the best pads I have tried, and even though it’s in a rag-like form, its comfortable and professionally designed. It’s produced by Real Relief, a reusable menstrual pads company. These pads are environmentally friendly and less expensive than disposable pads. A pack of six will last for four years, and all you need to do is wash them and dry them in sunlight.

As part of my efforts to help girls in Ghana manage menstruation, I am working hard to bring them RR reusable sanitary pads. It’s not an easy undertaking, but we are looking for partners to assist us in importing, supplying and then selling these reusable pads to our girls.

They are less expensive compared to disposable pads, environmentally friendly (as they won’t result in littering), and above all, they are very comfortable and safe to use.

If you or someone who know would like to partner with us in Ghana, please reach out to me here on World Pulse via private message.


STORY AWARDS

This story was published as part of the World Pulse Story Awards program. We believe every woman has a story to share, and that the world will be a better place when women are heard. Share your story with us, and you could receive added visibility, or even be our next Featured Storyteller! Learn more.

Comments 35

Log in or register to post comments
Dawn Arteaga
May 28
May 28

Congrats Lizzy on your story award! This is such a beautiful story! I’m so glad you shared it on World Pulse.

Lisbeth
May 28
May 28

Thanks very much sis. Dawn. I am very glad to all World pulse team for making my voice be heard. Happy menstrual hygiene day to you.
Regards

esther atosha
May 28
May 28

hi lisbeth,
your strory and your goals are soo inspiring , congratulation for your story award.

Lisbeth
May 28
May 28

Dear Esther,
Thanks for your appreciative comment. I am glad to have touch hearts with my story. I hope you are doing very great?
HMH Day to you.

Jill Langhus
May 28
May 28

You did it!!!! Woo-hoo:-) Great job, Lisbeth, and well deserved... you must be over the moon:-)

Lisbeth
May 28
May 28

Haha :-). Actually I have reached the moon and returning. On serious note I am glad to all of you who have help make this a reality. Its highly time we all speak out about issues in our communities. And am glad my voice was heard. And thanks very much for the appreciative comments.
HMH Day to you.
Hugs

Jill Langhus
May 28
May 28

Very good:-) You're welcome!
Same to you!!

Lisbeth
May 28
May 28

Thanks
:-)

Jill Langhus
May 28
May 28

You're welcome:-)

ARREY- ECHI
May 28
May 28

Congratulations Liz!

What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing your menstrual journey with us and for what you are doing to change the narrative around menstruation.

Lisbeth
May 28
May 28

Thank you sis. Arrey. Please How are you doing? Its really sad with the disposable pads in Africa. I don't know about your country though but here is bad. These plastic all over in our environment, not healthy at all. Its a dream I look forward to it realization.

I really appreciate your very sweet comment. Hope you are having a great day.
Regards

Congratulations for being a Featured Storyteller, Sis Lisbeth! I'm sooooo happy for you! I love your story and how you are advocating for reusable pads. Well-deserved! Happy Menstrual Hygiene Day! :)

Lisbeth
May 28
May 28

Thanks very much dear Karen for your kind words. Yes reusable pads are the solution for Africa poor sanitation system. You all have contributed to this success. I appreciate all of your efforts.
Have a great day and HMH Day to you too.

Reusable pads are also needed in the Philippines. Before reading your story, I have been contemplating about the waste women contribute by using sanitary napkins. I wanted to write about it for HMD, too. So when I said " I love your story", I meant your heart for the environment is the same with mine. There are reusable pads in the Philippines, but they don't have the same technology used by Real Relief.

So I have been reflecting a lot after reading your story. I contacted Trine, too, to ask her if Real Relief is considering to launch SafePads in the Philippines. How did you bring these pads to Ghana? I'm curious. Please let me know. Thank you!

Lisbeth
May 29
May 29

Wow! This is amazing to hear. Thanks very much! We are also looking forward to launch it yet here in Ghana. I am convince it will be soon.

We are still looking for people, organization, or institutions to give us a push. I hope this visibility will make it possible. So please if you are reading this and want to sponsor safepads move to Ghana just inbox me. You do not have to in be Ghana you can be anywhere. Its Monet that talks here haha

Thank you Karen
Warm regards

Hello, dear sister,

Oh, we’re the same. I am scouting for possible investings, too. I hope we can find these willing organizations and donors. Wouldn’t it be nice if they’re finally available in our respective countries?

Hope you are doing great today!

Lisbeth
Jun 02
Jun 02

That will be very lovely! Let's keep praying!
Hugs :-)

Yes! Ask and we shall receive. Hugs.

Tumanjong Miranda
May 28
May 28

OMG! Lisbeth, thanks for this powerful story, and thanks for the initiative. It's really great.
Congrats for your story award!!

Lisbeth
May 29
May 29

Thank you too for your nice comment. Praise to God for the knowledge and world pulse for identifying and making my voice be heard. You all are an encouragement.
Have a great day!

Wendy Stebbins
May 30
May 30

Wonderful inspiring story. Thank you so much for sharing

Lisbeth
May 30
May 30

Thank you very much too for reading through. Hope you are having a great day?
Regards

Mikaela Kate
May 30
May 30

Congratulations, Lizzy on your award and thank you so much for sharing your challenging story. Through the challenges, you have empowered yourself and the people around you to rise up and educate and take action . you inspire!!!!
Love, Mikaela kate

Lisbeth
May 30
May 30

Aunty Kate, thank you very much for reading my story. I really appreciate your kind words. Yes without the challenges we might not have experience to share. I glad you got inspired through it.
Warm regards
Lizzy

Mikaela Kate
Jun 02
Jun 02

Inspired Indeed! Lizzy! So glad to know you and to play here. We will find many ways to empower. For this i am happy
Love Aunty Kate

Mikaela Kate
Jun 02
Jun 02

PS. I shared your article on my facebook page. love it

Lisbeth
Jun 02
Jun 02

Hi Aunty Mikaela,
Its okay. Thanks for sharing
Warm regards

Wendy Stebbins
Jun 04
Jun 04

Lisbett,

This is wonderful story telling. I learned so much about your culture as well as what an amazing person you are. I hope you will keep writing because you really have a gift.
Ubuntu,
Wendy

Lisbeth
Jun 04
Jun 04

Aunty Wendy,
Thanks very much for the encouragement. Sure I will keep writing. I am glad you have pick some few stuffs from our culture here.
Warm regards

agyerich
Jun 07
Jun 07

Thumb up for this great article!!

Lisbeth
Jun 07
Jun 07

Thanks :-)

Oluwatoyin Olabisi
Jun 17
Jun 17

Awesome story. I remember my first menstruation I was practically screaming and shaking from fear but thanks to my mum, I would have died that day from fear. I agree with u on how expensive disposable sanitary pad can be, i remember a time in my life when i was using pieces of clothes because I could not afford a sanitary pad. In fact one day while walking on the street I remember someone telling me that my cloth was bulging from the back of my dress. It was that bad. Good Story.

Lisbeth
Jun 18
Jun 18

Haha, its actually Scarry first timer. The reusable pads are now like professional rags or clothes. Easy to used, affordable and environmental friendly. I hope one day the whole Africa Will turn to using it. Thanks for the comment. Have a nice day!

Asherah
Jun 28
Jun 28

Hi Lizbeth,

Thank you for sharing your story! This past year I read a book by Jason and Cinnamon Miles about a non-profit they started in which they provided purses with reusable sanitary napkins in them to girls in the Ngombe Compound in Lsaka Zambia. It is a fascinating story and journey. I highly recommend reading their book, "We Are Sew Powerful" if you get a chance as it ties in nicely to what you are doing! You can read more about their organization at www.sewpowerful.org. Again, excellent article and thanks for the work you are doing to help girls continue their education!

Lisbeth
Jul 16
Jul 16

Dear Asherah,
Thanks very much for the information and comment. Its a wonderful work they do, amazing. I really appreciate it. Will surely reached them. Thanks once again.