World Menstrual Hygiene Day: Tackling Period Poverty in Nigeria

Menstrual Hygiene is one of the fundamental issue concerning reproductive health. It is instrumental in raising the  dignity and well being of women and girls. Menstrual Hygiene day is an important day to delve openly about periods, help break silence, raise awareness and  change negative social norms surrounding menstrual hygiene around the world.

Period are facts of life and integral part of every teenage girls and women's life. Approximately 300 million women menstruate on a daily basis. Yet, there are still stigma associated with period. It  is imperative to delve into one of the key issues behind World Menstrual Hygiene Day, the devastating reality of  period poverty around the world and its high prevalence in Nigeria.

Periods are highly dreaded and rarely something we look forward to every month. Painful, tiring and inconvenient, plus the accompanying  friends it brings along ranging from abdominal cramps, diarrhoea,  vomiting,  nausea and dizziness are challenging to cope with. But for many women and girls around the world especially in Nigeria,   it is way beyond  the side effects, the bleeding itself poses a  huge problem as well.

Period poverty is when a girl cannot afford menstrual products during menstruation which is approximately three to seven days every month resulting to use of unhygienic practices.

1 in 5 girls are unable to afford sanitary products. They have to improvise using tissue paper, cotton wool, discarded news paper, towels which are unhygienic and may pose risk. Staggering amount of young girls and women are not well enlightened about menstruation and are disadvantaged by their lack of knowledge and access to clean sanitary products in poor urban and rural communities.

Period is inevitable  in  young girls women's life but it is so disheartening that over 1.2 billion women across the world do not have access to basic sanitation.  The National Democracy and Health Survey 2013, revealed that girls make up 60% of the 10.5million out of school children in Nigeria with  period povertty contributing immensely to these.

 In  a country where an estimated 44% of its population live in extreme poverty and high population amidst the adolescent. Lots of parents struggle to make ends meet and see sanitary products as unaffordable luxury especially with high hike and surge in prices of these sanitary products experienced over the years. There have been clamors for subsidizing and removal of taxes on sanitary products with no action taken by the government.

On average, a woman will menstruate for over 30 years of her life and uses roughly over 9600 pads in her lifetime. Put in the factor that most tampons and pads are not reusable and lots of it go to landfill and the non-organic items take up to 500 years to decompose. Even sometimes, the properties in these pads and most especially tampons are injurious to health as it could cause Toxic Shock Syndrome.

The pandemic has intensified period poverty. Periods dont stop for pandemic and few families are  able to afford the products as most people are plagued with hunger, job loss in these crises and have to prioritize food and health care first even though sanitary products are life essentials as well.

Beyond period poverty, lack of access to water and poor or inadequate toilet facilities in schools and public places makes girls stay away from school and prove a high constraint in achieving menstrual hygiene.

Meeting the hygienic needs of all adolescent girls is a fundamental issue of human rights and public health and not something to be treated as a mere triviality. To tackle period poverty in Nigeria, there should be access to sanitary products by girls and women. Sanitary products should be heavily subsidized and distributed freely to secondary school teenage girls and young women.

Demystifying period stigma and shame with awareness on menstrual health and hygienic practices should be given to young girls and boys. Almost every teenage girls have stories to share on being unknowingly stained and being laughed and mocked at by boys. Education needs to go both ways in educating young boys and men that period are normal physiological process and not something to be laughed or mocked for.
Adoption of sustainable alternative products like reusable sanitary products and home made sanitary product to replace its disposable counterparts that can be used continually should be massively produced in Nigeria with affordability given a priority.

It is time for action to ensure that girls and women do not feel limited by something as natural and normal as period through increased education on menstrual hygiene, and affordability reusable sanitary produts. It is time to create an enabling society in which women and teenage girls are empowered to manage their period safely and in a hygienic manner. Its high time to see to the rise of period power and absolute end of period poverty.

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