by Kehinde Ogunronbi
The menstrual period is a biological indicator of the proper development of a woman’s reproductive organs and is marked by the monthly shedding of the lining of the uterus. Still, this natural occurrence poses many socioeconomic challenges for many young girls in Nigeria; there is a high poverty rate, a culture of silence, stigma, and a general lack of awareness about it.
For girls from low-income households, one major challenge is the inability to afford the necessary materials for the monthly menstruation cycle. Materials such as sanitary pads, towels, tampons, or cups help to manage menstrual hygiene. When women and girls from disadvantaged backgrounds cannot access these products, they suffer from period poverty – a reality of at least 37 million females in the country, according to Nigeria’s Minister of Women Affairs, Pauline Tallen.
Another major challenge borne out of the sociocultural setting in the country is stigma and lack of adequate sensitization about menstruation. Reports have shown that many young girls don’t have any education about menstruation till they hit puberty. This is the case of Omolara Abiodun, a teenage student of Abusi Edumare School, Ijebu Igbo, in Abeokuta, Ogun State, who admits she knows nothing about menstruation.
“I have not started menstruating yet, so I don’t know much about it. Some of my friends and seniors in school have started menstruating, but I don’t understand it”, she said in an interview with this reporter.
Like Omolara, many young girls don’t find out about menstruation until they begin their periods, says Balogun Oluwatosin Joseph, the Lead Partner of Arise for Girls, an initiative designed to educate young girls about menstrual hygiene.
The initiative was borne out of the apparent inaccessibility of the needed and required information concerning menstruation for many young girls, and the need to nullify misconceptions and culturally promoted myths associated with it.
As a direct response to the information gap, the initiative provides adequate education on menstruation and gives free sanitary pads to girls in secondary schools. Their approach is to educate the girls on ovulation and menstrual cycles, different menstrual flows, menstrual seizures; how to be clean and safe during periods, and how to use sanitary pads.
Since May 2021, the project team claims it has reached over 1400 girls in Ogun, Lagos, and the Federal Capital Territory with its menstrual management education sessions and free pad distribution campaign.
How it works
The initiative reaches out to secondary schools to collaborate with them to have a session with their students. Once the approval is gotten, they set a date for the training which features healthcare workers talking to the girls about menstruation and answering any questions they may be willing to ask. They also give packs of sanitary pads to the girls, in addition to tips on menstrual hygiene and talks on stigmatization.
Omolara said she learnt how to stay hygienic during menstruation and make and use reusable cloth pads through the project. Hamina, another student at Abusi Edumare School, Ijebu Igbo, also learned how to wear and use sanitary products properly.
After the sessions, the girls are encouraged to join a WhatsApp group. Those who have access to phones and the internet join and those who don’t, access the groups through their parents’ phones. “The platform is mainly for continued engagement and to answer any questions the girls have about their menstruation after the training,” says Balogun Oluwatosin Joseph, the Lead Partner of the initiative.
For girls who don’t have phones and do not have parents who have internet-enabled phones, the initiative provides them with phone numbers through which they can reach out.
However, many parents are skeptical about the exposure social media brings to their children, so the organization puts measures in place to make parents understand the need for continued conversation. Although not all the students are on the WhatsApp group, some after the training request a one on one session by the organizers where questions that cannot be asked openly by some students are given responses in private. And if there are further questions, some of the school teachers have the contacts of the organization to reach out to.
Timilehin Osunfodurin, one of the beneficiaries of the training, it’s been impactful. “I now understand why my menstrual cycle changes because of my dietary choices. I have also learned the importance of good hygiene during menstruation,” she said in an interview.
For its pad distribution campaign, Arise For Girls risks sustainability. Sanitary pads are very expensive, with one pack costing between N400 – N1000. Mrs. Eziukwe Maureen Chinelo, the Vice Principal of Bakre Disu Oshodi Memorial School said “the organization gives bags of sanitary pads to the schools.” While this is a great way to support girls, the question of how the approach to solving period poverty is sustainable remains unanswered.
More Improvement for the Project
The Arise for Girl initiative’s approach toward solving problems related to menstrual misconception and period poverty is not new. Many initiatives have sprung up and through their programs, address the problem of lack of credible and adequate information. However, Arise For Girls invests in creating a safe space for the girls to talk about matters they wouldn’t on a normal day; thereby overcoming the culture of silence and stigma.
On the other hand, an expansion of the approach could multiply the impact of the project. Should the project adopt the creation of school clubs or student networks, the course of the project can be extended. The initiative can draw up routine activities for the club and welcome more members to the gathering. Through this, existing members will be ambassadors of the project, spreading the education through their peer groups and creating a bigger ecosystem of safe space for the girls to talk about the matters that concern their menstrual health.
Another improvement is that more provisions should be made for more pads to be sufficient for all the girls.
A futuristic plan should be in place for the girls when the pads get exhausted by providing sanitary pads to the school after the distribution so that the students can get access to it when they need them.
The initiative can also partner with other organisations to bring more help to the girls. Although lack of adequate information and financial capability to buy sanitary pads is a common problem for menstruating girls, other problems that border on psychosocial issues also plague them.
This story was produced in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.