Period poverty: How a foundation is sustaining menstrual hygiene management through flow game

DESPITE being aware of many diseases attributed to unhygienic menstrual practices, like using of rags to absorb blood, many young girls, especially in rural areas, still find it hard to purchase disposable pads. An approach by a non-governmental organisation (NGO) is, however, relieving young girls of this burden.

When 17-year-old Ogunnusi Olamide began her menstruation in 2020, her parents told her to cut clothes to absorb the blood. She could hardly remember if she had once used a sanitary pad, until 2021.

Olamide, a senior student at Seyindo Community High School, is one of the millions of girls facing the ‘period poverty’ problem and resorting to using rag, tissue paper and cloth.


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Olamide explained to The ICIR that she misses school activities anytime she is in her menstrual period because of the pain accompanying the blood flow.

Staying out of school during the menstrual period is a setback for some of these children, that was before an intervention from the Yemi Adeyemi Reprohealth Foundation (YARF) also known as Yemi Foundation. 

Menstrual hygiene management, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), is the process where “women and adolescent girls use a clean menstrual hygiene management (MHM) material to absorb or collect blood that can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of the menstruation period, using soap and water for washing their bodies as required, and having access to facilities to dispose of used menstrual management material.”

Despite menstruation being a very important natural part of a woman’s life, over 500 million women across the world are battling menstrual poverty, according to the World Bank.

These women do not have access to basic sanitation during their periods, and often subject themselves to unhygienic practices.

Menstrual poverty is when a girl can’t afford the necessary materials to keep herself clean during her menstrual cycle, which is averagely four days a month. This can lead to poor menstrual hygiene by wearing a pad for more than a day or cloth to absorb menstrual blood. In some cases, girls resort to using tissue paper.

These unhealthy practices have been identified to cause fungal infections, bacterial infections, yeast infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

For instance, 17-year-old Sikiru Oluwapelumi, a Seyindo Community High School student, started her menstrual cycle not knowing what it was.

In 2019, when she first saw blood coming out from her private part, she consulted her mother, who told her to use some rag-like clothes to tidy herself up.

As a young girl who did not know the implications, all Oluwapelumi could think of was the pain that came with it.

She explained that for more than a year before getting to know about menstrual hygiene, she used rags, and sometimes wore more than one underwear, to contain the flow.

For Adeloye Oluwaseun, 16, an SS3 student of Remo Divisional High School, her family could not afford to buy her sanitary pad. She adopts unhygienic practices to absorb the blood. 

This situation changed late last year when the Yemi Foundation visited her school to teach them menstrual hygiene and how to make reusable pads.

The ICIR gathered that, on average, a pack of 7-10 sanitary pads costs between N700 and N2,000, and this price varies based on the brand one intends to get. A pack is generally not enough, most especially for girls with heavy flow.

Accordingly, based on the menstrual flow, women may use more than one pack for a month, resulting in spending approximately an average of N1,400 in a month and N16,800 in a year.

This is quite a headache for many Nigerians, who have been identified to live below one dollar per day. About 40 per cent of Nigerians (83 million people), were estimated to be living below the poverty line, while another 25 per cent (53 million) were said to be vulnerable.

Menstrual Poverty – a reason why girls miss school

According to reports, period poverty is the primary reason schoolgirls leave school on a regular basis.

UNICEF indicated that 23 per cent of girls in Nigeria had missed school in the past 12 months because of their period.

The data stressed that 15 per cent of girls in Burkina Faso and 20 per cent in Ivory Coast also missed school, work and social activities due to menstrual hygiene.

Another data by UNESCO estimated that more than 500 million women and young girls experience period poverty every month due to their inability to afford menstrual products.

One study also says that women who experience period poverty are likely to suffer from anxiety or depression that may come from school bullying and stigmatisation.

These, among other major reasons, are why girl-children miss school. A schoolteacher, who spoke to The ICIR, confirmed that her pupils miss school during their menstrual periods.

“Yes, some of them miss school during their periods. They normally complain of stomach pain, but that’s not the only case. Most of them do experience non-stop blood flow from their body and don’t have the means of absorbing or stopping it,” Adam Fatimah said.

Experts who spoke to The ICIR agreed that difficulty in accessing water and proper hygiene facilities in school are some of the major reasons why girls miss school whenever they are having their period, especially in many low and rural communities. 

They stated that if most of the girls could afford sanitary pads and/or reusable pads, schools will be recording less absence.

“There are many issues with Period poverty; there are infections, which is the most difficult part when talking about menstruation. However, we have heard and seen the reasons why girls, especially between the age of 16-18 miss school. Some of these schools do not have facilities that promote proper hygiene for females. Sometimes, there may be unavailability of water in school and even toilets.

“You can’t expect girls who practised open defecation as a result of lack of toilets to take care of blood coming out of their body. That kind of lady will prefer not going to school during the period because she wouldn’t want to be mocked by her male counterparts,” the Medical Director of Ayo Hospital, Ayo Salahudeen, said.

A flow game for menstrual hygiene teaching

When Adeyemi Opeyemi, a doctor, started the journey of menstrual hygiene teaching during her NYSC days, she didn’t understand the depth of period poverty till a few years ago when she started going to public schools in Moniya, Oyo State.

She was prompted to develop a flow game to start conversations with young people on menstrual management when she learnt about the depth of the menace and how it was putting young girls into uncompromising situations.

“Girls were using unhygienic products when menstruating, and some were put in an uncompromising situation just to get favour from their classmates to buy pads.

“Period poverty is when individuals have inadequate access to menstrual education and hygiene supplies. This could be due to socio-cultural stigmas or financial constraints,” Opeyemi who is also a medical doctor told The ICIR.

A flow game developed by Opeyemi Adeyemi to teach young girls about menstrual hygiene management and how to make reusable pads.

The Flow Game is a method used to reach out to school children on sex education and period poverty.

The board and the cards used in playing the game carry the names of menstrual-related terms and female private parts. This, according to the founder, is to make the girls easily comprehend and say those words boldly. 

The Flow Game is a two-year project which was officially launched in March 2021. So far, the Foundation said it has visited more than 20 schools in the South-west region of the country.

“The Flow Game was created to address the misinformation and stigma attached to menstruation. My team and I realised that there were so many misconceptions around the topic. We also wanted to instil pride while making them comfortable with the subject matter. The Flow Game is really a fun way to make an awkward conversation a comfortable one.

“It is a board game. The decision to create a physical game was due to our intended population. Prior to the game, my organisation provides sex education classes to secondary schools in Lagos and Ogun states. We wanted a game that would spark conversation while teaching. We also considered that not all students had online access,” the medical doctor said.

The ICIR confirmed that Yemi Foundation has taken the outreach to several schools, which include; Christ Citadel International in Abeokuta, Earnest College, Remo Divisional High School, Abeokuta Grammar School, Soyindo Community High School and Batoro Community High School.

Through the approach, children are also exposed to the key components of female’s  reproductive part.

According to her, the foundation uses the advantage of the flow game to engage children in  two folds  – Educational and Skilled Menstrual projects.

During the workshop, the schoolgirls are divided into groups. While some groups start with playing the game, the other groups learn how to make the reuseable pads, and then they switch.

The skilled workshop includes trainings on how to make reusable cloth pads.

Schoolgirls learning how to make reusable pads

Reusable sanitary pad is a cloth-type pad worn to absorb menstrual fluid as an alternative to disposable pads. 

Reusable sanitary towels can be used for up to two years, making them ideal for people living in rural areas with no toilets, electricity or running water.

Speaking on the process, Opeyemi disclosed that the foundation covers, at least, a school in every three months to preach menstrual hygiene.

“We cover, at least, a school every three months with the help of sponsors and volunteers. We have meetings with the school heads to understand the needs of the school and decide on which workshop would fit best,” she said.

On the educational project, schoolgirls are exposed to the anatomy of the female reproductive system, personal hygiene, puberty and menstruation, and types of menstrual products, with a session of demonstration of each type.

“Our success story is the skills these girls learn, and knowing they could make a living if they choose from creating these pads on a large scale. The immediate response we get is knowledge transfer and teaching young girls menstrual hygiene. The testimonials from the students and teachers are endless,” Opeyemi said.

While noting that the team largely funds the projects, she added that they have gotten financial supports from some of the communities they visited.

A staff of Divisional High School Obadige Adenike explained to The ICIR that the flow game approach was fun and made learning how to make reusable pads easier for her students.

Adenike, when asked about the improvement over the years, replied, “There’s improvement because before they came, some of them said they were using tissue paper, clothes and rags, but now the story has changed. They taught us the effects of those things and how we can be infected if proper care is not taken.”

Limitations

While the flow game arm students with the skills to make reuseable pads, there is still the challenge of getting materials necessary for it production.

”Sometimes, the pupils can’t afford the materials, and that’s a big challenge for them. If we can get more people to donate materials, it will be more helpful,” the Agricultural Science Teacher of Seyindo Community High SchoolOgungbemi Folakemi Tokunbo told The ICIR.




     

     

    Financial constraints is also another challenge millitating against the intervention. The founder Opeyemi believes it slows down their work.

    ”There’s financial constraint. We can only move at the speed we can afford,” she said.

    On the other hand Opeyemi said they still have to battle community acceptability.

    She said, ”Community acceptability. We still live in a community that will prefer that these conversations are in private. It takes a lot of convincing sometimes for a community and school leaders to see the benefits of being transparent and open with these conversations.”

    Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: [email protected]. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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