© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
How period poverty plagues women in Abuja communities
According to the Study International, more than 1.2 billion women all over the world do not have access to basic sanitation. Menstrual periods are open secrets but period poverty suffered by many women in Nigeria is shrouded in absolute secrecy. Another report has it that women that experience period poverty is likely to suffer from anxiety or depression. Jennifer Ugwa of The ICIR writes about the plight of women in Abuja communities that are plagued by period poverty.
THE United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 1 and 6 are aimed towards ending poverty in all its forms everywhere, ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. This goal extends to paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations. But these goals are yet to be attained.
However, while some would rather smile through their problem, few are ready to tell their stories, and among this number is Fatima.
“Su wanene ,Menene Sukeyi? Zasu bamu kudi ne” (Who are they? What are they doing? Are they “giving us money”?) Fatima asks her companion.
“Sun zo suyi Magana Akan lafiya ku ne, Naji an zo an raba muku pad”, “They are here to talk to you about your health, I hear they came to share pad,” the friend replies as she turns her head sharply with a look of disbelief towards the reporter in their midst from the end of the room where she is reclining on the floor.
-Fatima is 25 years old, a stay -at home mother who has been married for eight years with four children. During an interview with The ICIR, she brings out a piece of old cloth she uses for the menstrual period from a black polythene bag. She ensures her friends are not around when she brings it out. She cannot remember the precise time she started menstruating but one thing she does remember is that she has been using pieces of old cloth for her monthly sanitary needs all her life.
“I use rags for my menstrual period. Sometimes, my private part itches, but I don’t know whether it’s an infection,” she said, pointing to her pubic region.
“I will like to use a sanitary pad instead of rags. I told my husband to buy one for me, but he said there is no point, that I should keep using the rag, that he is not complaining,” she says, her gaze now fixed on the ground.
We use our cardigans to cover the blood stain
In Shere, Bwari Area Council of Abuja, Fatima is not the only woman experiencing period poverty or inability to afford sanitary wares.
About 51 women comprising both adolescents and adults in the community say they all use pieces of old cloth for sanitary pads.
Khairat Usman and Zabbau Ibrahim, both 18, are in SS3 at the Shere Government Secondary School. These teenagers use rags as sanitary pads too.
“When I am going to school I use rags, that is all I have to use. I don’t get stained all the time, but sometimes if I stain myself; I will use my school cardigan and cover the stain,” Zabbau says.
Privacy is something that Khairat yearns for among other things. She would have to change the rags she uses four to five times while in school as she experiences heavy bleeding.
“When I want to change, I have to go when the bathroom is empty, or when my friends will not see me because some of the girls will look at me somehow.
“Because of that, I don’t go to change every time, that is why when I stain myself I will use my sweater to cover my skirt,” she says.
The two girls say that when they are out of pieces of cloth to use or have to deal with wet or moist cloth, they do not go to school on such days.
The ICIR learns that most of the women that use rags do not sun this piece of cloth outside. The same plight affects Umaru Hajar, a primary six pupil in Passo area of Gwagwalada. Hajar uses rags for her monthly period and, during school days, has to wear a single piece of cloth for up to seven hours.
“I go to school by 7:30 am and I come back around 1:30 pm in the day. I change the rag that I wore to school when I come home.
Hajara says that whenever she is menstruating she never misses going to school with her cardigan. The cardigan has since become her saving grace “Even if I forget it, I will go back and carry it, because if my cloth stains I use my cardigan to cover it.”
Period poverty and infections – our cross to bear
Tegha Ruben runs a private consulting agency in Gwagwalada but despite her level of financial independence, she is no stranger to period poverty.
“Ordinarily when I am supposed to use four pads in a day I am restricted to using just two. When you have to use four pads in a day and six is the required number, which in most cases could be higher, and then it is clear you cannot afford to go above 4 per day, now that is the worst kind of poverty, when you cannot take care of your personal needs.”
Tegha says that in a month she makes use of two packs of pad or three. Tegha uses Virony as a brand of sanitary pad. One of the packs she said contains 14 pieces and in a month she needs 2 to 3 packets at the price of N3,250.
“When they say ‘to use for not more than four hours,’ within one hour I have changed like two times.”
“I plan for it because I know that is how it appears because you can’t even be economical, in fact, sometimes I don’t even go to work. In the night, I wake up to two times in the night to change, and this is different from the ones I have used during the day.
“Blood has an awful smell, take for example when you drop the blood of an animal somewhere, just leave it for some minutes, when you come back there you will see that it will change colour and you will see flies around it or on it because it is smelling.
“It is the same thing with us because when you try to manage the pad and you sit on it too, the same smell is there and it goes back to the body.
“I have treated infections too, but sometimes they say it is toilet infections. But I think too much management of pad can even cause it,” she says.
The narrative does not change either with Remi Tamima, a secondary school teacher in Gwagwalada Government College.
“I never knew period poverty was a thing. I just assumed it is the cross I have to bear. Actually, menstrual periods are stress, it is a stress to women; it is something that when it comes there is a kind of unhappiness. I always have it in mind that for every month I have to be ready whether I can afford sanitary pads or not, it is entirely unavoidable for every woman.
“Managing my period is hard. Sometimes I menstruate twice a month. At first, I thought something was seriously wrong with me, like I was not normal, the feeling of being the only one having this problem at that time was choking.
“Since I needed more than one pack of pads and could not afford to buy sanitary pads for the one month I had to use tissue papers. In a day, I used about 6 big rolls of tissue papers in a day, In fact, most people in this community use rags including my students.
“Sometimes I change frequently, obviously not because I have enough pads, but because of the heavy flow, though I still try to drag-out the time and manage one pad as long as I can. Since you can’t afford pads, all you need to do is to make sure that this stress is taken off your shoulders for that month.
Tamima said that although she is not sure if the itching she experiences in her private part is due to the use of tissue papers. She, however, downplayed it by pointing out that infections are normal.
“Actually some people said that the use of tissue causes infection, but I don’t know, I also notice that when you use pad after some time, it will start itching you.”
Fifty-five-year-old Salamtu Sani is the mother of six children, have four daughters, one she said is married and two are still leaving with her, providing sanitary wares for the two girls on a monthly basis is a tedious work for the mother.
“I know that the use of rag is not good, but I don’t have money. My children ask me to buy them pads but I still tell them to use rags because me I did not have the money.
“The youngest said that she won’t go to school if I don’t buy pad like the ones her friends are using.
“Me I did not use a pad, I am not using it, is foam and rag that I use, But if I have the money maybe I can buy a pad and try it too. But if the government can help, they should help us,” she said smiling shyly.
Aderemi Christy, an officer in the Rural-urban Water Sanitation and Hygiene, (WASH) a Non- Governmental Organisation founded by UNICEF that aims to provide access to safe water, adequate sanitation and hygiene education told The ICIR the use of items of clothing is something that the women cannot avoid. “Not just in Nigeria, but in Africa generally, most women are the breadwinners, so the question of what sanitary products will I use comes last, that is if they even remember it.”
On health implications
Doctor Mahumud Rabiah, a gynaecologist at the National Hospital Abuja, also said that the use of wrappers or pieces of clothing is unhygienic and could lead to ascending infection.
“The materials or rags that are often used during menstruation are usually dirty and not hygienic and can allow the infection to move from the outside to the inside. Having this infection can lead to different problems.
“In the long-run women infected could experience recurrent virginal discharge, pelvic inflammatory diseases, which could lead to chronic pelvic pain and in most situations, could block the fallopian tube and this could result to infertility and marital disharmony.” She said.
In addition, Mahumud said that some sanitary products are manufactured by the producers with profits in mind first while consideration for the users comes last.
An estimate of the 31 years bill
Through a market survey, The ICIR found that sanitary pads of these qualities are often within the range of N1,000 and N 1,700 for one pack (10 pieces).
If periods last for from 1- 7 days, with an average of five days for most women, and one single pad is worn at the average length of 3 hours, then in 24 hours, a total number of 8 pieces of pads should be used.
An average five days cycle means that a woman would use approximately 40 pieces of pads every month at the cost total cost of N4,000. For 12 months, a woman must have spent N48,000.
All things being equal, an estimation of one woman’s sanitary purchase at least from the age of 14- 45(Menopausal age) will be N1,488,000 (One million four hundred and eighty-eight thousand naira, only).
Investigation shows that period poverty is experienced by women both in the rural and urban settlements. More than 55 women interviewed in Shere and Passo have never used sanitary pads before, and there is still no comprehensive data on the number of women that suffer period poverty in Nigeria yet.