Gbenga Odunsi writes on the challenges many underprivileged Nigerian girls face in having access to sanitary pads for their menstrual cycle. In this exclusive piece, Odunsi highlights the high price of the commodity; the many items ladies use as alternatives to sanitary pads; and what a non-governmental organization is doing to combat period poverty in Nigeria.
On a sunny Saturday morning, several girls in Ajegunle area of Lagos state are seated at the balcony of an aged building, to listen to a lecture on menstrual hygiene, in an outreach organized by Sanitary Aid Initiative — a nongovernmental organization established to address the needs Nigerian girls who do not have access to sanitary pads — in collaboration withInformation Nigeria.
“You see where this lettering is, you make sure you clip it, and then you wear it.
“You cannot soak it in hot water; you cannot use bleach or hypo to wash it.
“Just wash it with OMO detergent, the way you wash your shirt. For those living inside face me face you, try not spread it outside.
“Even if you do, try to use a light scarf to cover it.
“You have to be very neat while using this pad. It can last you for six hours., Make sure it is dried completely before you use it. You cannot iron it.
“Please don’t borrow your pad to your sister…”
Although it wasn’t the first time these girls are experiencing their menstrual cycle, they paid apt attention to their lecturer who reeled out the dos and don’ts of using reusable pads which she distributed to girls in the community.
Reusable pads are cloth pads that are easy to manage, and last between 1-4 years. They are also eco-friendly.
In many societies around the world, taboos associated with menstruation, combined with an overall culture of silence around the topic, limit the ability of women and girls to fully and equally participate in society, undermining their overall social status and self-esteem.
Menstrual health is not just a women’s issue. Globally, 2.3 million people live without basic sanitation services and in developing countries, only 27% of people have adequate handwashing facilities at home, according to UNICEF. Not being able to use these facilities makes it harder for women and young girls to manage their periods safely and with dignity.
In Nigeria, 25 percent of women lack adequate privacy for menstrual hygiene management. Globally, over 500 million women and girls lack adequate facilities for menstrual hygiene management (MHM). Inadequate WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) facilities, mainly in public places, including schools, workplaces can pose major challenges to women and girls
In many African countries, menstruation is rarely talked about, yet remains a stressful problem for teenage girls, particularly those from low-income homes who have to skip classes because they can’t afford sanitary pads. Others ask for permission to leave school premises and many stay at home during their periods.
It’s a serious problem, and one that makes girls vulnerable to exploitation. There are men who demand for sex in return for buying girl sanitary pad they desperately need.
Cost Of Pads
The high cost of menstruation sanitary materials is so high that girls from poor background cannot afford hygienic sanitary materials like pad, and monthly menstruation is unavoidable. They miss schools while menstruating, dig holes to sit on, keeps dripping blood without using anything to hold the flow. They are vulnerable to men that take advantage of providing money to buy pads to molest them.
In Ajegunle, a young girl, who does not want her name revealed, says whenever her period shows up, she finds it difficult to access pad, hence she resorts to tissue or clothes before going out to buy pad. She added that being an unexpected incident, sometimes, she does not have readily available funds to procure disposable pads.
Another woman in the community says she does not use pad during her period. According to her, she uses cotton wool, but her daughter has educated her on how to use the reusable pad Sanitary Aid just gifted girls in the community.
With the duration of the menstruation cycle ranging from two to seven days, and average being five – a school girl needs about two packs for proper hygiene management. This means she will need to spend about N600 to N1000.
More worrisome lately is the influx of fake and substandard menstrual pad finding its way into the market from both within and foreign countries. Nigerian alone boasts of over 12 sanitary pad brands, including popular ones like Always, Ladycare, Lady Sept and Kotex® that has just entered the space.
However, quite a good number of these popular brands are battling adulteration, while unbranded ones, many of which do not meet up with standards and whose sources are untraceable, is another menace confronting menstruation safety in the country.
Bose, 28-year-old says she suffers from rashes whenever she uses disposable pads. She expresses joy over the reusable pad given to her by Sanitary Aid Initiative.
A 16-year old girl says she buys tissue whenever she does not have access to pad. She further lamented over the cost of disposable pads.
Through various campaigns, Sanitary Aid Initiative has distributed reusable pad to over 15, 000 girls across Nigeria, and is hoping to draw the attention of the government and international organizations to ensure girls and women do not go back into period poverty,
Many young Nigerians had been calling on the government to reduce or stop taxing female hygiene products. They also demanded that sanitary pads be distributed free to secondary school students and teenagers in rural areas.
Tax On Sanitary Pads
Lack of access to functional and separated toilets, limited information on menstrual hygiene management, and limited availability of sanitary materials to manage menstruation make it more difficult for girls to manage their periods.
Many young Nigerians had been calling on the Nigerian government to reduce or remove taxing the importation female hygiene products. They also demanded that sanitary pads be distributed freely to secondary school students and teenagers in rural areas.
In 2018, a group of Nigerians submitted a petition titled “An appeal to end all the taxes on the importation of menstrual hygiene products (including sanitary pads) and pass the menstrual hygiene bill” to the National Assembly.
Despite these calls, the government is quiet as menstrual products remain taxed – resulting in higher prices of pads.