Ending menstrual poverty in women, girls

Poor menstrual hygiene management remains topical with growing health implications. In this report, ENE OSHABA looks at efforts by stakeholders to end ‘period poverty’ among women and girls in Nigeria.

Period poverty, a recent coinage about women and girls menstruation cycle management is the situation where women and girls cannot afford sanitary products during their monthly periods.

Lots of Nigerian women and girls suffer health implications of unhygienic means of menstrual cycle management. Girls in particular do not only suffer the health effects but stay out of school while in their cycle due to the inability to buy expensive sanitary pads, and the lack of clean toilets for their privacy.

Statistics by the United Nations (UNESCO) has indicated that in Africa, one in 10 girls misses school during her monthly periods as a result of poverty.

It is estimated that more than 500 million women and young girls experience period poverty every month due to the inability to afford menstrual products.

Lack of proper hygiene management during the menstruation periods could affect the health and well-being of women and girls, such as urinary tract infections. Some others may fall into depression from not being able to afford menstrual products.

A 2018 study available online revealed that 39% of women and girls who suffer period poverty develop anxiety or depression, which could go on to affect them socially and economically for the rest of their lives.

According to the National Coordinator Wom,en’s Right to Education Programme (WREP), Mimidoo Achakpa, women’s menstrual cycle deserves adequate attention by all, especially due to the economic challenge it poses on women and girls of school age.

In a bid to mitigate the effects of women and girls suffering from poor menstrual cycle management especially at the grassroots that the Non Governmental Organization (NGO) WREP has embarked on capacity building for women in artisanal and small-scale mining communities in Benue and Nasarawa states.

Worsening Covid-19 impact

Among the myriad of economic challenges women and girls face, the outbreak of Covid-19 globally took a daunting toll on many countries especially in Africa and particularly in Nigeria.

Most families could hardly feed let alone to budget for menstrual cycle, this situation further set the female gender on the edge with the risk of contracting infections from poor menstrual hygiene management.

It is as a result of this that the idea to train women on the making of reusable sanitary pads was birthed by WREP. This was to enable low income earning women and girls tackle the challenge of menstrual hygiene management.

Achakpa said the capacity building workshop was to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on women in artisanal and small scale mining communities in three selected communities in Benue state and three selected communities in Nasarawa state.

She said these communities were disadvantaged especially with the crushing and mining activities in their locations women were exposed to much health risk.

“We have women drawn from three communities in Benue state; Ushongo where stone crushing is majorly carried out, Mbatiav where limestone for cement is in abundance and Mbayion where the Benue cement factory is located.

“These women were chosen out of the fact finding we did and discovered that they are left out in terms of economic support especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. So, we thought it would be nice to also centre on women in mining communities,” she explained.

“We also trained women in Nasarawa state last year and the EGPS thought what we did was good and they agreed that we train another set of women so that the impact would be felt especially because the women are all eager to learn the production of reusable sanitary pads,” she added.

Men’s role

The place of men in women’s menstrual cycle cannot be overemphasized. As stated by Achakpa, “men’s role in women’s menstruation is everywhere.’’

According to her, “If not for anything, for hygiene purposes because in the homes women use water mostly and if a woman gets inflected as a result of her unhygienic nature during her menstrual cycle the man also gets infected when both meets as husband and wife.

‘’So for me, I’m an advocate of every man knowing about women’s menstrual cycle hygiene especially the advantages and disadvantages because whatever outcome will affect the men too.’’

She regretted that the patriarchal nature in Africa and Nigeria sometimes makes it difficult for men to give necessary and adequate attention to women’s cycle, she however expressed hope that men are beginning to understand and take responsibility.

“I went to do some focus group discussion on WASH project and I got talking with some educated men and they feel they do not have a business with their wife’s menstrual cycle.

“I made them understand that education starts from the home and if the man has the knowledge of women’s cycle they can educate their daughters on what to do especially when the women are not there. I was able to convince them so I would say reception is difficult because of patriarchy but the more we advocate the more people get to understand.

“If men are aware it would address period poverty because the men would begin to factor the menstrual pads of their daughters into the family budget and also advise them on making reusable pads.

“We trained 90 women last year and we are training another 90 women to enable them address period poverty,’’ she added.

Lack of adequate attention

Similarly, the Programme Manager, Eunice Spring of Life Foundation (ESLF), Tine Agernor, said over the years issues around women’s menstrual cycle has not been given adequate attention even when it ought to, especially as it concerns health and well-being.

Agernor, who is also a menstrual hygiene facilitator, described menstruation cycle as the normal physiological process in women .

She expressed concerns that its management has been a challenge stating: “This issue is relegated in discussions but of late the importance of menstrual hygiene management in general well-being of women and girls is being brought to the fur by development partners and health practitioners and so women and girls are being taught its management so that they can live a dignified, healthy and economic life.

“Before now women have been managing their cycles quite fairly and we do know that women use 100 percent pieces of cloth for centuries and they have managed this well and so if they are able to manage these pieces by washing and sun-drying properly they won’t get infected.

“Menstruation involves the use of absorbent which is expensive and that is why women and girls are being trained on the making of reusable pads for themselves and to also provide them with alternative means of livelihood. We also taught them how to keep them clean always.’’

Men as advocates

Agernor stressed the importance of both men and women advocating for dignified lives for women and girls, saying this will enable a better world where people show concern and respect each other’s peculiarities to enable development.

“Men and women are the same and are all human beings and we all work collectively to make the world a better place. It is important we work together to make the world a better place because women don’t live in isolation but with men as brothers, fathers, husbands, in laws etc.

“There are many young girls who do not have access to sanitary pads management materials either because their fathers or brothers have not prioritized that and this is because they are not aware of how menstruation happens generally.

“It is very important for men who for now in the society have more economic power to appreciate menstruation and the challenges women face in terms of menstruation because we have lots of men in decision making in terms of budgeting.

“If men are aware they will have a better budget for women to take care of themselves during menstruation. If a father is aware of the importance of menstruation pads for his daughter when he receives salary he will budget that into the home expenditure,’’ he said.

Stakeholders tasked

The programme manager further called on the government to prioritise investment in health generally, water, sanitation among others.

He stressed that investments in water sanitation and hygiene of which menstrual hygiene is a component has greater yield returns on the general health of communities and nations.

“Government should invest more on menstrual hygiene management. Stakeholders should also increase awareness creation to make the government understand why it should increase investment and be more deliberate in menstrual hygiene management because of the various returns it has on women and girls and the society in general.

“Menstruation is not just a thing for women because if we don’t help the women manage this properly at the end of the day it all comes back to us,” Agernor noted.

Speaking further he stated: “I have been strategically trained to train people on menstrual hygiene because even women themselves lack some knowledge and understanding and that is why we are working to create adequate awareness.

“Menstruation is everybody’s business and we all have to work together to ensure it is adequately managed.’’

Participants laud inititaive

A participant at the training Martha Amos, from Gboko local government lauded the initiative, affirming that the workshop was very impactful just as she expressed joy that she could now make her own sanitary pads.

“I can now make things I didn’t know how to make before, I will also explore the business part and I will have my own brand to sell and make money,’’ she said.

Another participant, 15-year-old Sembe Tion from Makurdi, said she learnt how to make reusable pads, sanitizers, liquid soap, assuring that she will start a business to earn money and take care of herself.

For Elizabeth Beje, the training has empowered her to be an entrepreneur assuring that she will also go into business and make a name for herself globally.

“It is good for women to be empowered and this is a great privilege for me, the world will hear about me soon. I was blown away seeing a man training us on the menstrual cycle but I was not disappointed.

“I learnt things I didn’t know so nothing wrong about men being concerned about a woman’s cycle, she said.

“I learnt a lot, though I was sceptical seeing a male facilitator for menstrual issues because I felt it is a woman’s thing and men should not delve into this.

“However, now I know better and it is important men know about this so they can be of help to their daughters when their mothers are not there, said Cecilia Igbana, another participant.