Ecofeminism

What’s It Like to Have Your Period in Nigeria?

A reusable menstrual kit including cloth pad and a cup. Photo by Vanessa Ramirez on Pexels

Two years ago, I received an Instagram message from a medical student in Nigeria. 

“I’m a medical student in my final year and I am the CEO of Youths Enlightenment Senitel, an NGO for girls in Nigeria,” the note started out. 

“I want to create an awareness on care during menstruation in women in Africa down here in Nigeria 🇳🇬 because I must say it’s very devastating when young girls are rushed to the hospital because of infections from the rags and wrappers which they normally use because of the lack of education.

We go hospitals and hotels and condoms are free. Why not same with pads?”

I told him to let me think about it and that we have the same problem here in the United States —  pads are not free. And while women are not routinely rushed to the hospitals for infections, girls miss school because of it.

Just the other day I was forced to go to CVS the other day to buy an emergency pack of tampons for my best friend who was having a period emergency on the way to her house. As I recently ran out of them myself,  figured I’d get myself a box too. Unfortunately, CVS didn’t carry organic cotton or even applicator-free options. But hey, better to have a magic plastic bullet as a back-up than nothing at all. So I picked up two boxes: Total price was $24!

As they’re usually just incorporated into the price of my grocery bill, I don’t really think about it. But today was a reminder that having a period is bloody expensive!

According to this article in Medium, a lifetime supply of cheap tampons costs a person around $1,035 bucks, but would cost much more if a woman has a longer, heavier flow and perfers organic tampons that are better for the earth. 

But that doesn’t take into account OB/GYN visits, cramps, and missed work.

I thought of homeless women in Los Angeles and how they could possibly afford it. 

Then the medical student in Senegal messaged me again. 

He sent me the letter below, which describes the price the women must pay in his country for clean sanitary pads. We here at Eco-chick feel it’s best served published in its entirety on Eco-Chick and this is why we’re acknowledging as our first #mensupportingwomen feature. 

And in the meantime, if you see a homeless woman on the street and want to help out her but maybe feel uncomfortable giving cash, a great idea is to keep a bag filled with maxi-pads and sanitary wipes handy in the car instead.

SEXUAL REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH (SRH) MENSTRUAL HYGIENE

(Stories, complications and prevention measures) 

“Menstrual Hygiene!! Menstrual Hygiene!” was all I shouted and screamed at the top of my voice to the young girls under the local canopy we had for the girl child enlightenment, at Jenta Adamu street, Jos Plateau State, Nigeria. To my greatest surprise: what I heard from the midst of the girls was a tiny little voice, but one with GREAT CONFIDENCE AND PAINS coming from deep within her heart. She says, “The problem is that my parents, and even a lot of my friend’s parents, cannot afford to give us money to buy pads.”

Then I said please come forward little one, which she did and which much sadness on her face she said; “I was on my break period in school then I decided to standup and go and get some snacks, I was so embarrassed especially with the boys looking and laughing, without knowing why, I didn’t realize I had stained myself. Ever since then any time I am on my period, I use my food money to buy pads so that I don’t smell or feel uncomfortable that way I take care of myself.” 

Now this was the first burden that was placed in my heart, the little girl who often had to starve during her menstrual cycle. “A lot of my friends can’t afford it (sanitary pads). We buy a sanitary towel for N360.00 ($1 USD) and there are six pads in it. I see my period like five days in a week and I have to buy two packs,” she added. As she narrates her story, she breaks down in tears. 

Amid gentle intermittent sobs, she continues, “My friend, of whom we are very close. She asked her boyfriend for money to buy pad and the boy told her he will give her but he had to sleep with her.” 

She said her friend obliged and slept with the boy just after her period – which is the ovulation period where pregnancy often occurs. (ED. Note: Pregnancy can occur at any time in the menstrual cycle.) 

Her friend got pregnant:“In search of a proper hygiene, she got pregnant, now she has ruined her life.” She goes on to tell this reporter how education is the only way out of poverty. “My friend has lost the opportunity to go to school,” she says. And I went all teared up. 

Globally, women are deprived of proper menstrual hygiene practices as a result of poverty. Statistics derived from a smart phone survey titled Performance Monitoring and Accountability 2020 (PMA2020) showed that only 37% of women aged 15-59 in Nigeria, have all they need – clean materials to prevent leakages and stains, wash facilities for proper menstrual hygiene management, pain relievers and places to dispose of used products for a proper menstrual hygiene. 

Findings from a 2015 survey titled an assessment of menstrual hygiene management in secondary school, conducted by UNICEF, showed that school girls in Nigeria face many challenges when they are on their period. 

These challenges affect the ability of school girls, across religion and ethnicity, to manage their period with dignity; and also cause them to skip school during their period because concentration becomes difficult. A 2016 UN report estimates that one in 10 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa skips school because of her menstrual cycle. 

The number of days that a girl will miss classes due to menstruation has a negative impact on her academic performance. Three days at least per cycle for each month is equivalent to not less than 30 days per year. If the cycle doesn’t fall on weekends, then a girl misses a great part of class lessons. Apart from other challenges such as doing a pile of domestic work after school hours, girl students often face unnoticed difficulties during their menstruation period. 

Additionally, we found out that a lot of the girls resorted to using pieces of material and tissue paper because they could not afford sanitary pads. Sanitary pads are considered the most convenient to use because the stay glued to underpants and cause little or no stain. Worse, is that some girls in the villages could not even afford underpants and had to stay at home for the entire period of their menstruation. Life is getting more complicated for so many women and girls as a result of Nigeria’s shaky economy which just recovered from one of the worst recessions; and ongoing conflicts in several regions of the country.

 Nigeria is the most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa. It also has a very young population. The majority of the population is below the age of 25 years, with 22 percent of the country’s population between the ages of 10-19 years. Data on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) outcomes in Nigeria highlight the importance of focusing on adolescents. Global evidence shows that young girls bear a higher burden of maternal mortality and morbidity. Data show that the average age at sexual debut is roughly 15 years of age among adolescent mothers in Nigeria (DHS 2003, 2008, 2013). 

COMPLICATIONS: 

Common practices of the girl child who cannot afford a proper menstrual hygiene and sanitary pads resort to improvised materials like scraps of old clothing, leaves, banana fibers, are faced with embarrassing leaks, bodily odors that lead to social exclusion, also stating the fact that they are exposed to a risk of getting Pelvic Inflammatory Disease through urine track if such pieces of clothes used are contaminated with fungi or bacteria. Also, most types of such pieces of clothes can easily get wet and stay wet for a long period of time compared to sanitary pads which are made to absorb the wetness and keep the user dry during period. Staying wet for a long time can easily attract fungus and itching will be inevitable. However, in case there is no other option than using pieces of clothes, then such items should be washed properly with soap and clean water, dried and ironed in order to kill any bacteria and germs, but sadly there are no provision of the basic amenities. 

It may interest you to know that we have DISABLED LADIES, MENTALLY UNSTABLE LADIES, CRIPPLED LADIES, those living with HIV/AIDS, women and girls in prisons/prisoned, they all undergo their menstrual cycle, this situation reduces most girls’ experiences of menstruation to a monthly dose of discomfort and shame, really wonder how they cope during such periods. Girls and women become more vulnerable to transactional sex. It also really worsens the state of gender inequality. Now imagine a girl child who is bleeding and starving just to keep herself clean and also amidst of all these struggles to come to school to learn, that isn’t a good history (speaking as a final year medical student), as she lacks the proper amount of glucose to learn and ends up sleeping in class which doesn’t prevent the pains she undergoes and the irritation she experiences at that moment.

WHAT CAN BE DONE: 

Primarily educating the citizen in general especially in the rural areas, where they battle with different myths and stigmas. Making them to understand that it is a normal physiological process, a blessing rather than feeling cursed and something that should be embraced and taken cared of properly than going into hiding and seeing it as a thing of shame. Also making posters and bills educating them on the complications that come with it and the appropriate place to go when it comes abnormally. Not leaving out the men and boys also, making them to understand that the society would never be, without the existence of the ladies and would never be controlled if every passing ovum was fertilized. Making them know how to treat a lady at that particular time of the month.

Secondarily providing the basic amenities for a proper menstrual hygiene by the government and leaders, proper WASH facilities, gender friendly toilets especially in public schools, washable and reusable sanitary towels that will last for more than 12 Months, building the capacity of girls and boys on menstrual hygiene. Campaigns to demystify menstruation will be rolled out at grass root rural areas and school level, prisons, street girls and refugee girls and girl with disability schools and this will go ahead to target men and boys in the campaign. We should also cover all issues on HIV/AIDS, STI’s, early pregnancies and natural family planning. And it shall also help school going girls to stay healthy, it shall reduce unwanted pregnancies, school absenteeism among the adolescent girls and rural women.

Tertiary prevention would be the government laying down policy on the proper distribution of the sanitary products. First taking it with up most IMPORTANCE and making their female subjects know the they care a lot about them, for if condoms are very often distributed freely, sanitary products should be distributed in the same manner or at a heavily subsidized rate (sex is a choice but menstruating is not a choice for girls and a lot of parents with several girls cannot afford it).

Good sexual and reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system. It implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life, the capability to reproduce, and the freedom to decide if, when, and how often to do so. Menstrual hygiene is part of basic health hygiene and one of the most fundamental issues concerning reproductive health. Every girl should have the right to such services that would help them maintain their dignity and wellbeing during their menstruation period. 

I am OGUNJINMI MARTINS AYODELE, the Chief Executive Officer(C.E.O.) of YOUTHS ENLIGHTENMENT SENITEL (Y.E.S.) an NGO for the girl child, where we enlighten the young ones how to take care of them self and most importantly how to take care of the old, not been carried away with the wave of just growing up but growing up to make a difference. A final year medical student of BINGHAM UNIVERSITY KARU AND BINGHAM UNIVERSITY TEACHING HOSPITAL (ECWA EVANGEL) JOS, PLATEAU STATE NIGERIA, WEST AFRICA. 

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Jessica Williamson is a social impact storyteller and partnership builder who believes in the power of story to change the world. She is a writer, reporter, speaker, video producer, and on-air personality dedicated to amplifying the voices of marginalized women to create a healthy planet. She currently serves as the North American Regional Director for the World Information Transfer (WIT); an NGO in General Consultative Status with the United Nations. She urges world leaders, governments, and institutions to consider the role of women in sustainable development at global policy meetings. In her new role at Eco Chick, Jessica aims to share women’s stories and give NGO’s platform by connecting them to mainstream audiences.