Menstrual items should be part of palliative packs during conflicts
Anike-Ade Funke Treasure is a broadcast journalist, certified media trainer, mentor, speech and leadership coach as well as an event compere. She is an advocate for women and the girl child, a well sought after panelist and moderator for conferences on women. Treasure in this interview ahead of the World Menstrual Hygiene Day said menstrual items should be part of relief materials and palliative packs during conflicts and crisis. CHUKWUMA MUANYA writes.
Why your interest in menstrual hygiene?
I attended an event at the University of Lagos sometime in 2018 where I met a young lady who spoke so convincingly about lack of access to pads, and how we can help. She was so persuasive I invited her to the International Women’s Day Summit at the radio station I was managing at that time as a speaker. And the idea stuck.
As I was pivoting away from Nigeria in 2019, the idea came to me again. I started my research and saw gaps in the campaign in Nigeria. I realised that period poverty is pervasive, that we need people to recognise that menstrual items should be part of relief materials and palliative packs during conflicts and crisis.
I saw the need for free sanitary pads for school-aged girls in Nigeria and affordable ones for Nigerian women. What about water in public schools in Nigeria so that girls can remain in school during their periods. I saw that we need decent changing spaces/toilets for girls to change their towels in school and observe good sanitation. We also need menstrual leave for women of reproductive age in the workforce who have extremely difficult periods in the Nigerian labour codes.
All of these ultimately formed the goals of the campaign as I went on.
You recently launched a project on menstrual hygiene, what is it all about?
Well, the Sanitary Pad Media Campaign is presently the core project of Illuminate Nigeria Development Network, a social enterprise limited by guarantee. This is an independent and direct intervention in Nigerian communities. It is not affiliated to the Ministry of Education nor the Ministry of Health in any state of Nigeria. It collaborates with schools, in few locations and civil society organisations in many communities in the thirteen states of Nigeria where we are. It has over 100 campaign advocates for our 2020 #menstruation story series.
In the last three years of growing the project in different dimensions, we have focused on menstrual health advocacy for women and girls through the media, outreaches to communities and a pad scholarship. We entered the sector with a blue ocean strategy, which is to do things differently, from everyone in order to achieve visibility, and traction. I built on my media clout and past achievements of organising a Five Aside Football Competition for schools; a table tennis championship for school girls and a media mentoring initiative for aspiring media professionals.
Our first initiative of the project was in 2020, at the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic lockdown. That was when we cultivated the support of over 100 one hundred Nigerian women (and men) in media and allied industries to identify with us as advocates. They all shared their menstruation stories in a flier format with which we did our penetration strategy.
We deployed social media then, we used Twitter to engage audiences on how the scenario would change if men menstruated, that Twitter Chat had two men in the development and health sectors as guests. We also used Instagram to engage audiences in a series of conversations with some of our advocates to further advocate for free sanitary pads for school-aged girls in Nigeria; amplify the need for menstrual leave for women in Nigeria labour laws and the remove of tax on menstrual products, in order to make it more affordable to women
What have you been doing, especially in terms of improving the lives of vulnerable women since you retired in 2019?
We flagged off our One Year Pad Scholarship scheme in October, 2021. It is currently operational in 12, of the 36 states of Nigeria. We designed it to meet the monthly menstrual hygiene needs of school-aged girls in Nigerian secondary schools by providing disposable and reusable sanitary needs for 1,000 school aged girls for one year. We had targeted public schools, but there were bureaucratic bottlenecks, so we re-directed to under-served communities with vulnerable populations in rural and urban centres in Nigeria.
Our target was to meet the sanitary pad needs of 1,000 school aged girls in vulnerable communities across Nigeria through goodwill donations from friends and well-wishers. The heartwarming thing is that we surpassed our target, the figure doubled by December 2022, having started in earnest in January 2022. We ended up with 2,250 girls actively on the scheme and we are growing still.
Our penetration strategy was that where others distribute sanitary pads to schools and communities randomly, we have a structured scholarship scheme for school-aged girls, through which we did the distribution of sanitary pads, and other menstrual hygiene products. Our pad boxes contain a pack of menstrual pads, soap, underpants, panty liners, and sachets of beverages.
Presently, we have three categories of girls on scholarship, 200 girls are on disposable pads on the scholarship, of this number, 57 of them are living with disabilities and located in different care homes and organisations in Ibadan, Oyo State. 20 of them are in orphanages. Secondly, we have more than 2,000 girls and women on the reusable pads stream in 13 of the 37 states of Nigeria.
Thirdly, we have a scheme whereby people can sponsor a number of girls per year. We currently have 80 girls whose sanitary needs have been paid for and we are getting ready to put them on the scholarship. We produced monthly newsletters from November 2021 – Dec 2022, a year, to document our activities, yes, so that what we did can be evaluated and tracked.
How about the media campaign?
This is the story telling part of the campaign, I am excited about the stories we have curated and the meaning-making it has been. For radio, we created ‘My Period, My Pride’, a ten-minute radio drama series. We had hoped to air it on ten radio stations in ten major cities in Nigeria, in the first intervention. We would expand to more stations and cities with funding support. This is to further the advocacy, address the stigma, silence, myths and misconceptions associated with menstruation in the country. It had been stalled by funding.
We started ‘My Period Stories’ Podcast in July last year. The main goal is to use it as a platform to normalise the period of conversation in not just Nigeria but across the world. It features guests who openly share their unforgettable period stories with the aim of eliminating the silence around talking about periods. We have two seasons of the audio podcast on Spotify. In January a radio station started airing the podcast in regular programming. We are in talks with four other radio stations at the moment to run the podcast on their stations. We are presently working on the video version of the podcast.
The one-year sanitary pad scholarship was funded through appeal to friends, well-wishers and the general public. We asked for N10,000 for one girl for a year but inflation rose and N10,000 was no longer enough for a girl for a year. At that point, donation of re-usable pads came in from Diatom Impact.
What is the way forward for the Nigerian woman?
The Sanitary Pad Media Advocacy Campaign is anchored on Goal 3, 4, 5 of the Sustainable Development goals, which focus on good health and well-being, quality education and gender equality. It seeks to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences.
We had one sustainable alternatives to sanitary pads outreach in Ajegunle, the largest slum in Lagos in March, 2021. That was in alignment with the global movement to combat climate change. Waste from disposable sanitary pads constitute a huge percentage of the total waste in the land. If we are intentional about halving that, we would need to pivot to alternatives such as reusable pads which can be washed, tampons that are biodegradable and menstrual cups which are blissfully reusable, although more expensive.
The re-orientation and awareness is what the Nigerian woman at the grassroots or low-income area needs to have. You should see the faces of the women when we introduced menstrual cups to them. It is the way of the future because it eliminates the uncertainty, fear and myths attached to improper disposal of pads in refuse dumps.
Besides World Menstrual Hygiene Day, June 1 is World Milk Day; there is also World Breastfeeding Week and World Blood Donor Day. How are you leveraging on these to improve the lives of women?
I have always said it that women are unique. We are nurturers. Biologically speaking, we are very different from men, so there should be equity for us in the workplace. A man does not menstruate, get pregnant, give birth and breastfeed a child. These are unique functions, women do all of these things, in addition to showing up at work.
All of these biological expectations from a woman can go wrong and do go wrong many times. Of all the days you have highlighted, the only one men can do is donate blood. That is not to say women are more important than men or to cry for equality. We are not equal with men, we are different. Employers need to increasingly recognise that and make provisions for the twenty first century workplace to be more inclusive for women.
The theme for the 2023 Menstrual Health and Hygiene Day is ‘making menstruation a normal fact of life by 2030’. The aim to work towards building a world by 2030 where no one is held back because they menstruate. I believe that can happen when employers both in the private and public sector take another look at workplace policies and follow the example of an international company, that instituted a 12-day yearly paid menstrual leave for their female employees in the Middle East and North Africa.
Women have been celebrating that endlessly. I am impressed by the effort of the Zambian government in that direction too. It is law in that country that monthly, every menstruating woman takes a day off to observe Mother’s Day, the name for the menstrual leave. The fascinating thing is that the Zambian Ministry of Labour and Social Security ensures that inspectors go round offices to ensure that organisations include it in employment terms and conditions. Ultimately, I would like to see that done in Nigeria, in addition to women having access and being able to afford the menstrual products of their choice, and period-friendly water, sanitation and hygiene facilities everywhere.
What other things are you doing? What are your plans for the future?
I thank the Girl Force Movement, a coalition of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and individuals working with the girl child, for recognising my work in the menstrual health and hygiene rights space as winner of its yearly (Seen. Heard. Engaged. Resourceful and Open minded) S.H.E.R.O award in December 2022.
I thank my friends and well-wishers who have supported our work in different ways since inception. We have just announced a call for entry for an essay competition on World Menstrual Hygiene Day to commemorate the day. Essentially, it is for young menstruators to tell their period stories. I believe giving them the opportunity to tell their stories is another way of filling the pulse of our young girls and hearing from them directly. We also want to encourage a culture of storytelling and enrich our campaign with previously untold stories.
Details can be found on our flier on our Facebook page titled Sanitary Pad Media Campaign. There are categories on the flier from which they can choose from in telling their stories. There is a huge opportunity for the winners and the best fifty articles curated, which we are keeping close to our chest. We look forward to celebrating the winners on the International Day of the Girl Child later this year. And fingers crossed, we are birthing something new on TV soon.