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Gbimsi Junior High School, Savelugu, Northern Region, Ghana, May 2016.
GPE/ Stephan Bachenheimer/Flickr
Girls & Women

A Ban by a 'River God' May Keep Ghanaian Girls Out of School During Their Periods

For girls in the Upper Denkyira East district of Ghana, getting to school just a got a lot harder.

Chiefs in the region have said that menstruating girls are no longer allowed to cross the Ofin River — which borders the Ashanti and Central regions of Ghana — based on an order from the river’s god, the BBC Pidgin reported. A second directive from the river god also extended the ban to all Tuesdays, whether they are on their periods or not. 

The majority of people in Ashanti are Ashanti, while the Central Region is predominantly Akan, but both ethnic groups hold traditional beliefs in river gods or deities, like the one chiefs have said issued the ban.

Many children must cross the Ofin River to get to school, according to the report, and the river god’s new edict could lower school attendance.

Just 37% of secondary school-aged girls in Ghana attend school, and while that’s significantly higher than attendance rates in neighboring Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire — 17% and 23% respectively — it’s far from ideal.

Take Action: #ItsBloodyTime World Leaders Prioritize Menstrual Hygiene for Girls’ Education

According to the Ghana-based NGO Sustainable Development Focus (SUDEF), 95% of girls in rural areas reported missing school during their periods. Across all of Sub-Saharan Africa, it’s estimated that one in 10 girls miss out on education while menstruating, adding up to as much as 20% of a school year, UNESCO reported.

The river god’s ban has sparked outcry among children’s rights activists who say the ban violates girls’ rights to education, but local politicians have said they will work together to find a solution, the BBC reported.

In Ghana, the World Bank estimates that 11.5 women do not have access to adequate hygiene and sanitation facilities, but this problem is not unique to the West African country.

Around the world, social stigma surrounding menstruation prevents many girls and women from engaging in everyday activities — like going to school — during their periods.

In Nepal, a cultural practice called “chaupadi” calls for menstruating women to be isolated in huts throughout their periods. Though the practice has been outlawed, it still persists, and several women have died in menstruation huts in recent years, including one this week. In Afghanistan, women are told that showering during their periods will cause infertility.

Read more: Yet Another Young Woman Died in a Menstrual Hut

But It’s not just period taboo that holds women and girls back. A lack of access to safe and affordable menstrual hygiene management resources, like sanitary pads and clean, safe bathrooms in schools, also poses a great barrier to girls and women.

Global Citizen campaigns to eliminate these barriers and ensure that girls have equal access to quality education. You can take action here to tell world leaders that its #BloodyTime to put an end to menstruation taboos.