MANY young women and girls in Nigeria, struggle with menstrual hygiene management due to period poverty, which occurs when there is a lack of, or inadequate access to menstrual hygiene products, including sanitary pads.
It also includes the absence of adequate information about menstrual health and is one of the major challenges of menstrual hygiene management, globally.
A seventeen-year-old girl (who doesn’t want to be identified) who lives in the Dei-Dei area of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) with her relatives, sanitary pads are a luxury.
“Except people give it to me, I do not use pads. My aunt cannot afford it, so she taught me how to fold clothes for my period,” she said.
It is a similar story for many women across the county, who use unhygienic products during periods, due to poverty.
While the use of clothes and tissue paper could have negative effects on the health of the user, some women are unaware of the consequences.
A 35-year-old resident of Jahi, who identified herself as Mama Ejima told The ICIR that she had used pieces of clothing for her periods for as long as she could remember. She said she did not think that it could expose her to infections or any kind of sickness.
“It is only when you have enough to eat that you can talk about spending money on pads. This is what I have used all my life. I change the cloth after some time and wash it very well to keep it clean. I do not think it has caused any damage to my body,” she said.
Her teenage daughter who recently started menstruating, has no choice but to also use pieces of clothes instead of pads.
Every year since 2014, May 28 is set aside as the Menstrual Hygiene Day, to highlight the importance of hygienic practices during periods, and correct associated taboos.
According to a 2018 World Bank report, at least 500 million women worldwide lack adequate access to menstrual hygiene products.
Though period poverty is a global problem, it is more prevalent in poorer countries.
In Nigeria over 37 million women and girls of reproductive age, lack access to menstrual hygiene products due to a lack of funds as of 2021.
This was disclosed in June 2021, by the Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen.
Tallen also said this could affect girl-child education in the country, as many school girls spend days at home during periods, due to a lack of menstrual products.
She further noted that the high cost of menstrual products was disturbing, and called for the affordability of sanitary pads in Nigeria.
Nigeria already has a high number of girls out of school, which is presently over 10 million says a UNICEF representative.
A market survey by The ICIR shows that sanitary pads cost between N500 and N2000 in parts of the FCT.
An average of one pack made up of eight or ten sanitary pads is used by women and girls for each menstrual cycle which occurs once every month, but many indigent girls and women are forced to use unsafe products instead.
Lack of water contributes
In many communities in the FCT, lack of water also contributes to the problem of the menstrual hygiene management.
Many women and girls lack access to clean water, which leads to unhealthy period practices.
In the Ike Bassa community of Kwali Area Council Abuja, residents rely on muddy water scooped from the ground for all their domestic needs, including bathing and drinking.
Twenty-year-old Anna (not real name) who lives in the community, told The ICIR that the lack of clean water made her periods more challenging.
“I try to use alum for my water, so that I can feel a bit clean at times, but it is really difficult for me during those times.
“Sometimes, when I urinate, it is reddish in colour. I don’t know if it is a result of drinking the water or from using it to clean up during periods,” she said.
Unsafe period practices can lead to several health challenges, including infections of the urinary tract and other reproductive organs. In severe cases, it could lead to infertility.
In an interview with The ICIR, a Gynaecologist at Regent Cross Hospital, Abia state, highlighted some of the negative health implications of using unsafe products while menstruating.
“The menstrual period is a time when the cavity of the uterus is exposed because of the outflow of the menses. Using the wrong products can result in many health challenges. Some of them can harbour infective organisms like bacteria.
“Some of these products may cause direct injuries to the vulva. Also, the vulva has a direct connection to the uterine cavity, so there could be an ascending infection,” he said.
Also speaking with The ICIR, a medical doctor, Odiri Oniko said repeated infections could lead to complications that cause infertility.
“The main problem with tissue is that it can break off pieces and ascend up there. This could lead to the most common complications from unsafe hygienic practices during periods: infections.
“Repeated infections can lead to bigger complications, mostly scarring and adhesions that can cause fertility problems like blocked tubes. It can also cause toxic shock and sepsis too,” she said.
The Advocacy and Marketing Manager, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), Nigeria Steve Aborisade told The ICIR that many young girls and women without access to safe menstrual products are more exposed to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).
“We have noted how the lack of access can increase girls’ risks of HIV infection and how disrupts their education. It is the reason AHF takes it upon itself to provide free sanitary supplies to young girls and women,” he said.
Aborisade urged the government to make sanitary pads free for women and girls of reproductive age as a means of addressing the problem of menstrual health management.
“AHF is of the opinion that the government as a sign of responsibility must make sanitary pads available for young women and girls, free. We have encouraged other organizations to do the same.
The fact is that we all must support the government in this regard. We are happy the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs is seeing this as a priority and making efforts to rally stakeholders together to act,” he said.