Omolade Akintade* is a young secondary school girl who has much vigor for education and a dream to become a medical doctor in life. Many propose, but Nigeria society disposes is also a relative maxim of reference in her case as period poverty serves as a hindrance that turns the pilot wheel of her big dream into a mirage.
Whenever Omolola is having her period, such a day is always a bad day for her because she knows it will cause her to be absent from school for days and sometimes weeks.
The Ondo-born young lady is the third child of her parents. However, financial constraints have made her always opt in for Ankara cloth as a substitute for a sanitary pad to help her soak the menstrual flow.
“Going to school is always difficult for me because I can’t Imagine my clothes soaked with blood. Whenever I couldn’t afford to get sanitary pads, I opt-in for clothes to soak the blood. I know some people use Cotton wool or tissue paper but I don’t like it, so I always prefer cloth,” she recounted.
As much as she doesn’t like to miss classes, Omolade added that going to school with a uniform stained with blood is an embarrassment to her.
Beauty Augustina, a young girl from Benin also narrated her pathetic experience of how the lack of sanitary pads has overtly hindered her from going to school. As a result, she once failed a school test because she cannot bear the stigma of coming to school stained with blood. Though she was not happy with her decision, however, she mentioned that the shame from it would have been a laceration she wouldn’t recover from, especially from her peers.
“On that faithful and painful day, my mum didn’t have money and nobody was at home. So, as I was ready to go to school, the next thing I saw was blood coming out. I was so upset because I didn’t know what to do that very day, so I took off my school uniform and slept in tears. When I was awoke, I realized that my body was already wet, so I took my bath more than the normal time I do spend bathing just to make sure I wash everything out.
“I felt it was like a sickness because it hindered my right to education and unfortunately that day was our test day in school, so when my mum came back, she thought I was sick, and eventually, I told her what happened and she quickly dashed into her save and rush out to get a sanitary pad for me so I won’t fail my test, unfortunately, they had finished before I arrived,” Augustina added.
Period poverty has been a tentacle to many secondary school girls in Nigeria, it usually occurs when they lack access to the menstrual hygiene products needed to use during their menstrual flow.
Period poverty also takes an emotional toll on teenage girls, as it has landed a big blow on many of them, preventing them from going to school and participating in sports and social activities. As a result, some of them find it difficult to confide/relate with their parents or friends whenever they are having their periods.
The Unpleasant Statistics
Period poverty is one of the dominant factors affecting teenage girls’ accessibility to Sanitary pads in Africa, especially in Nigeria. The Alarming number of girls that abandon school due to the lack of access to sanitary pads keeps increasing like wildfire with zero future for the girl child.
The Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, confirmed that over 37 Million Nigerian adolescent girls and women of reproductive age, lack access to menstrual hygiene products due to high costs. Another report also confirmed that about 80 percent of young girls in Nigeria drop out of secondary school due to a lack of money to buy sanitary pads during menstruation.
The team leader of the Girls to Women with Ease Foundation (G2WE)Dr. Olufunmi Adegbile has advised women across the country to desist from using rags, newspapers, and tissue papers for menstruation.
She noted that constant usage of those items may cause infections, cancer, and infertility among women, especially young couples.
“They don’t know that it is harmful and it is bad. Several married couples have issues with infertility and when they went for tests, we discovered that those women have been carrying infections for years and these infections were traced to bad menstrual hygiene, more particularly those that used rags when they were young.
“It is alarming that girls don’t see the use of rags as a shameful thing. For instance, in a school of 300 girls within menstruation age, you find out that 64 girls are still using rags in school, and this is quite harmful as they are prone to infection,” she added
Organization’s approach to preventing period poverty
Having discovered that the overwhelming number of girls’ inability to have access to Sanitary pads creates a barrier to their right to education in ondo State, non-profit organizations team called The Alcalypha Child Care Initiative in collaboration with Ondo Yali Network led several campaigns in their outreach by visiting secondary schools in the Ondo States to sensitize the girls on menstrual hygiene.
Oyeleye Kehinde, who is the founder of Alcalypha Child Care Initiative said, “We have worked with relevant stakeholders so far for the last four years on this subject matter. We have a team that collaborates with volunteers, to reach out to people, and our target has been the children living in low-income communities.
“Interestingly, There was a day we brought the pads to them and they did not know what it was, and that raised our inquisitiveness to question what they have been using. They see the pack of pads and then think it is bread. It was a very pathetic moment to behold and that is why we are visiting schools to sensitize them on the needful.
“The stigmatization attached to menstrual flow must be dealt with for girls to stay back in school. All hands must be on deck irrespective of your gender to see that we must fight the cause of the Female child to see that girls have access to education and every barrier must be destroyed to see that they become great like their fellow counterparts.
“The Government policy and International Organization that makes condoms Free, can also do the Same to make Free pads possible. We must emphasize the government policy to see that such a pad to a degree should be subsidized or Free.” He added.
The Ondo State YALI Coordinator, Saheed Bidemi Ibrahim disclosed that, “Some girls are not able to afford regular pads due to the high cost in the market. Whenever we organize that campaign, especially during World Menstrual Days, we give out pads to them and teach/train them on the type of material they can use as an alternative and how to make sure this material is hygienic.
“Every school should have menstrual pads in their clinic. This is why the clinic exists in the first place when you know that you have girls in a school. Things like this might occur. Some might not feel it until they get to school
“When you leave your home comfortably and maybe around 11 you discover that your flow has started so if There is a pad in the school, you can be paid up till you go home. Not that the child will be sent home to take care of herself. Her right to education for that day has been denied. It could even be a form of stigma or embarrassment, but when you know that in the school there are pads there. The girl will go there and get padded up and she continues her class until she goes home,” he added.