By Sola Abe

 

Patience Sunday was in Junior Secondary School two (JSS2), when she saw her period and she was shocked. Even though she had come across it before and she had been taught about it before she saw hers, she didn’t know that it happened to every young woman who reached puberty. 

“I was scared and started crying. I stayed away from others all through that day. When I got home, I still didn’t tell anyone because I was afraid until my mum noticed my wet uniform,” Sunday recounted. 

Menstruation is an expected natural change that occurs in the female reproductive system, announcing a new phase in the lives of young girls. But many go through this cycle with little or no information about it.

Unprepared for the change that would take over their body, many young girls are often shocked and scared to see their menstruation, which comes unannounced in most cases.

Although it is a natural phenomenon in the lives of women, menstruation is still a topic discussed in hushed tones. While it is taught in some schools, many young girls still don’t understand it as they are limited to the definition of the subject matter.

“I was told in school that it is at the age of puberty that I would see my menstruation but I just thought it happens to older people,” Sunday said. 

A 2015 UNICEF report on the assessment of menstrual hygiene management in some Nigerian secondary schools revealed that there were inconsistencies in the subjects that addressed menstruation as well as information shared in schools.

It reported that the teachers, especially those in co-educational schools were uncomfortable to teach menstruation and menstrual hygiene.

Sadly, a lot of mothers, who are supposed to be the first instructors, are not teaching their girl-children about menstrual management. 

“As close as I was to my mum as a child, she didn’t teach me anything about menstruation. I learnt most of the things I know from friends. I went to a boarding school and I saw how my friends did it,” Tayo Loveth, who was 17 years old at the time she saw her period, said.

Although many Nigerian mothers fail to educate their children about menstruation, they expect them to be able to manage it when they see it.

“What do I want to talk to her about? I expect that when she sees it, she will tell me to give her money to buy sanitary pads. I didn’t talk to her about it because I didn’t see it as a big deal. My mother did not talk to me about it too and I was able to manage it myself till I got married,” Mrs Toyin Grace, the mother of a young teenager, told this reporter.

Some mothers don’t discuss it with their daughters because they are clueless about how to start the conversation or confused about what to say.

The knowledge gap in menstrual education is one of the many challenges young girls face in menstrual hygiene management. 

Many young girls don’t understand what is happening to them, are clueless about how to fix their sanitary pads, how many pads to be used daily and how to monitor their menstrual flow.

The only explanation they often get from their mothers for what is happening in their bodies is that they have grown into womanhood and would get pregnant if a man touches them. 

Unfortunately, the lack of sensitisation on menstruation is limiting many young girls' capacity to properly manage their periods.

Now 17 years old, Sunday wishes there were things she was told about menstruation before she started.

“I wish I was told not to be scared when I see it,” she said. “I wish I was told how to calculate my menstrual cycle. I also wish I was told what to eat and what not to eat before the arrival of my periods because of the pain I go through during that time.”

 

Menstrual hygiene education should start from homes

Interestingly, non-governmental organisations in Nigeria are rising up to the challenge as they are championing menstrual education, distributing sanitary pads to girls while teaching them what they need to know about menstruation.

However, AO Speaks, a menstrual hygiene advocate for Padman Africa, said menstrual education should start from homes.

“Mothers are expected to educate their children on what menstruation is all about as early as possible,” she said, noting that mothers need to go beyond talking to showing their daughters what to do.  

“Buy a pad and panties, show her the signs to watch out for, how to wear a pad, clean up after use, exercise to reduce pain, etc. I have heard of a child who was given pads in school by Always, when her period finally came, she didn’t know how to use the pad,” she said.

AO Speaks also highlighted the importance of including menstrual hygiene education in school curriculums, adding that the boy-child should also know about it in order to help his family and friends.

She urged schools to have female counsellors who can attend to girl-children when they see their periods in school and educate them on how they can take care of themselves.