Having a period is still expensive in Nigeria and nobody is talking about it
Seyi Alaka, a student of Oshodi Comprehensive High School failed part of her 2018 Junior Secondary School BECE (Basic Education Certificate Examination) because some of the exams were written when she was on her menstrual cycle. She would have loved to write her exams when her mates did. But her parents’ inability to buy her a pack of sanitary pad that costs between N400 and N500 meant she had to rewrite those exams the following year.
Seyi is not alone, thousands of Nigerian girls welcome the arrival of their inevitable monthly period with fear. A report by UNESCO reveals that one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa misses school during her menstrual cycle. This is estimated to be about 20 percent of a given school year.
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.
Menstrual hygiene management is described as the process where “women and adolescent girls use a clean menstrual hygiene management (MHM) material to absorb or collect blood that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of the menstruation period, using soap and water for washing their bodies as required and having access to facilities to dispose of used menstrual management material”.
A major constraint to effective menstrual hygiene management is the high cost of sanitary pad as a result of the harsh economic realities in the country. Sanitary pads costs an average of $1.30 per pack, meanwhile a large number of families live below the poverty threshold of $1.20 daily. A recent World Poverty report showed that Nigeria has about 86 million of her citizens living in extreme poverty.
The high cost of sanitary pads in Nigeria has made it arduous for poor girls and women living in rural areas to purchase. Many resort to unhygienic menstrual practices and materials which further leads to the reproductive tract infections (RTIs) and death.
“Government and donor organisations have over the years subsidised, and in most cases distributed condoms free to people, without considering same for female sanitary pads;” said Mrs Peace Emmanuel, a Public health expert.
“Sexual intercourse is a voluntary act, and menstruation is compulsory to every female adult, whether rich or poor.”
The disheartening level of awareness regarding menstrual hygiene management contributes greatly to the growing dispersion of stigmas and misconceptions related to menstruation especially restriction from social activities. A study by WaterAid Nigeria on MHM in Bauchi, Plateau and Benue revealed deeply rooted attitudes and myths about menstruation, including an erroneous belief that a menstruating woman or girl is cursed, and is a harbinger of bad luck.
A lack of confidence and opportunities for discussing menstruation-related topics compound the problems. Many young girls are confronted with both physical and emotional challenges during menstruation, but they are afraid or reluctant to discuss these challenges for fear of been stigmatised. When they summon courage to ask the necessary questions, they are either faced with an absence of persons with the requisite knowledge to provide answers or have no such opportunity to ask questions in the first place.
While the government has been lethargic in implementing the appropriate response mechanism, some NGOs are providing sanitary materials to young girls in schools and rural communities. While others facilitate workshops to sensitize girls and women on menstrual hygiene management. The cumulative result of these activities, however, is just a scratch on the surface because period poverty is a widespread national issue.
“The government needs to intervene and join hands with organizations like ours in both educating girls and also providing access to affordable, quality menstrual products,” said Kara Omu, Founder of Sanitary Aid Nigeria.
“Another way the government can help improve menstrual hygiene is by removing sales tax on feminine hygiene products and regularly distributing free menstrual pads in schools,” said Temitope Udom, Founder PADS.
Stakeholders in the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector have called on all tiers of government to design policies to promote Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) because it is a ‘Human right issue’. It is believed that the problem can be attenuated if the government can subsidise or donate pads to those who need them but are unable to bear the cost.
This report is undertaken with support from Code For Africa to amplify the Gender Gap conversation