By Temidayo Musa 



Period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and or, waste management. It has been estimated that more than 800 million people menstruate daily. There is still a growing culture of shame attached to menstruation and some traditional societies are not helping.  In some cultures, while girls who menstruate are still excluded from some activities; not being able to attend social events and even restricted from visiting religious grounds, some experience period poverty during their menstruation.

 

In Nigeria, with a population of about 200million, Sanitary pads costs an average of $1.10 per pack, meanwhile 60% of the population live below the poverty threshold of $1.90 per day. Many families do not even earn that in a day and gifting that amount to a poor person is like a jackpot they would rather use for feeding than for sanitary.

 

Volunteering with Sanitary Aid Initiative has giving me the rare opportunity to meet with local girls from remote places in Nigeria and even girls and women living in the north Eastern part of Nigeria where terrorism and insurgency pose a great threat to their life, health and wellbeing. From donating free reusable sanitary pads to teaching young girls on basic menstrual hygiene management, I have first-hand experiences on the impact of not being able to buy a sanitary pad and the threat that poor sanitary education and many myths that surrounds period poses.

 

Halima, 14, who has spent the last five years living in a shelter home inside the Elyakub Internally Displaced People Camp at Jere LGA, Borno State has never used a sanitary pad since she started her period. Her family moved to the camp after being displaced from their home by Boko Haram. She has been using unsanitary options like rags and old clothes during her period with no knowledge of menstrual hygiene management. It took a lot of reassurance for her to be able to talk about her menarche experience.

 

During her first occurrence, she revealed how she was scared to inform her visually impaired mother on what to do or how to come out to her. She felt maybe something was wrong with her. Maybe she is injured or the blood is as a result of a disease. She shared her fears about possibly being pregnant because she had no knowledge of what to do or anything at all about menstruation. Above all she was fearful of her menarche bringing disgrace to her family.

During my visit to a school at Makogi, Ogun state, I learnt about a young girl, Ronke, from a fellow. She was from a very poor family and lived with her parents who were petty traders in the low-income community. She attended an underfunded public primary school and one could be forgiven for mistaking her for a beggar due to her dirty school uniform. Buying sanitary pads that cost less than a dollar a month are a luxury that her parents sadly cannot afford. During her first menarche, she shared that she used a sheet from her exercise book and a piece of cloth to stop the flow. Subsequently, she sometimes uses tissue paper or gets pieces of cloth from a local tailor and when she is done, she will sometimes bury them in the ground or dispose of them in a flowing canal.

 

Aside from Halima and Ronke, thousands of other young girls and even older women living in Nigeria experience period poverty since they have started their inevitable menstrual flow. The majority of them cannot afford to buy sanitary pads because of their poor living conditions within the camp and economic status. Mothers that do not use sanitary pads for their own periods because they cannot afford it can neither buy for their young girls nor teach them how to use one. The cycle continues. Inasmuch we want to think that we are in 2019, there are still areas and places where menstrual education is limited and where myths about menstruation are still being passed on like a touch. Inadequate WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) facilities, mainly in public schools can pose major challenges to women and girls.

 

To conclude, With Nigeria being the poverty capital of the world, it is evident that there is an urgent need to combat and reduce period poverty among girls and women in our society. This can be achieved by the total removal of tax on sanitary pads, this will further reduce the price of sanitary pads and making it cheaper. Also, there should be more awareness on the reusable pads. These are cloth pads made with absorbent materials which can be washed after use and sun dried. If well managed, some can last up to three years. If this is made popular and available among poor and low-income earners, it will save them a lot of money when compared to non-reusable ones. Additionally, non-governmental organisations like Sanitary Aid Initiative are using reusable pads to fight period poverty in many states in Nigeria including IDP camps. This approach is sustainable because of reusability of these pads compared to providing underprivileged girls with non-reusable pads which they cannot afford when exhaust it.

 

Periods are essential to female’s growth and reproductive life. We need a more concerted approach that will make them feel secured, not ashamed or being excluded just because their period.