By Adebayo Abdulrahman
Menstruation is an integral part of every woman’s life but for 1.2 billion of the world’s female population, this natural phenomenon is a nightmare due to period poverty. Period poverty, which occurs when an individual can’t afford proper menstrual hygiene products like tampons and pads during menstruation, is an extension of widespread poverty.
The effects of period poverty ranges from the likelihood of urinary tract infections, to exposure of underage school children to transactional sex with men in trade for money to buy pads. It also has a negative effect on education, with research indicating that it has an adverse effect on school attendance rate, especially for the girl child.
To understand the implication of period poverty on school enrollment, a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) states that one in 10 African girls miss school during their periods. Since these girls don’t have pads, they have no choice but to stay home avoiding school. As a result of this, they fall behind in their studies and sometimes end up dropping out of school. In fact, a National Democracy and Health Survey carried out in 2013 says about 60 percent of the 10.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria were driven out by period poverty.
Solving Period Poverty
Solving period poverty is quite straightforward: every woman should have access to sanitary pads and good hygiene. But the problem, especially in countries like Nigeria, is affordability. With pads costing an average of N700 ($1.30), at least 82 million Nigerians, representing 40 percent of its population who live below N600 ($1.20) daily and in extreme poverty according to a 2020 report by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS), simply can’t afford it.
This data indicates that while sanitary are available for purchase, the people who battle with period poverty lack such purchasing power. However, reusable sanitary pads have emerged as an alternative to solve this problem.
Made from environmentally friendly fabrics, reusable pads are sanitary pads designed to last, unlike the widely used conventional sanitary pads that are disposed immediately after use, they are reusable for up to two years.
Two youth-led organizations; One Voice Initiative for Women and Children Emancipation (OVIWCE) and Reaching Minds Foundation have armed themselves with reusable sanitary pads as they battle period poverty in Nigeria.
OVIWCE started distributing disposable sanitary pads in 2016. However, in 2018, the organization embraced a more sustainable approach and by 2020, it had given over 1000 female students across five states — Oyo, Ekiti, Imo, Ogun, and Osun — kits containing four reusable sanitary pads.
Between 2020 and 2021, the organization says it has distributed and trained people to make reusable pads, reaching nearly 5000 people, with over 3000 schoolgirls.
“At first, we distributed the reusable pads because the communities we visited had the immediate need for the pads,” the organization’s lead, Joseph Adebajo, told this reporter.
However, beyond distribution, the organisation aimed to sensitize and train rural communities on how to produce the pads.
“We paid for our staff to learn how to make these pads. After some weeks, we had twenty staff and volunteers who had the knowledge and embarked on training people in communities we had distributed pads to in the past on how to make the pads.
“Clothes pads are a kind of reusable pad. With the right fabric from the market and the right process, they can actually make these things in a way that is very hygienic,” Adebajo explained.
With easy accessibility, the cost-effective nature of reusable pads means poor people in rural communities can afford to maintain good menstrual hygiene for themselves and their children.
But the question with this approach is how reliable locally produced reusable cloth pads are. With identified issues such as leakages, relying on locally made cloth pads could prove counterproductive for users. However, Adebajo explained that a particular type of lining must be used in between the material to avoid leakages.
“If you go to the market and get the right fabric. You must also make sure you get the right cotton which stops the leakage of the cloth,” he said.
“So if a trainee is able to effectively make the reusable pad, we also go forward to teach them on the proper use of the pads. Because even if you buy a disposable pad or an internationally produced reusable pad, if you don’t train them on how to use it properly, it would still leak and there could be reproductive part infection,” he added.
Another organization committed to bridging the gap between female schoolchildren, women and accessibility to sanitary pads is Reaching Minds Foundation. The organization also started off with the distribution of conventional sanitary pads but soon recognised the need to promote the use of reusable pads.
Initially, the organization entered into a partnership with a Germany-based company that produces reusable pads made from menstrual cups. However, it shifted gears after considering feasibility.
“It is more delicate and requires stuff like sterilization and the people we are targeting are young girls and women in rural areas,” Abass Oyeyemi, the founder of the organization said, emphasizing limited resources.
The organization moved to adopt only reusable sanitary pads made from cloth. The pads it distributes are produced locally with close monitoring to ensure they are in tandem with international standards.
Since it began making and distributing reusable pads, the organization says it has reached 1000 school children and 2000 women in rural communities across three Nigerian states — Ogun, Osun, and Lagos. Like OVIWCE, the organization distributes and at the same time trains people in rural communities on how to produce reusable pads.
Abass explained that the decision to embrace this approach was made after discovering that a lot of companies producing reusable pads are not in the country. “So, to adopt it, it only made sense to have local producers,” he said.
After reaching a conclusion to embrace the use of reusable pads made from cloth, the organization assembled a number of local tailors and trained them on how to produce and package the pads to meet quality standards, using various learning materials sourced online.
“After making the first set of reusable pads, female members of the team and our close friends wore it to assess and test its durability,” Abass said. It took few months of testing before the organization launched its locally produced reusable pad.
The organization relies on internal contributions of members and external donations from friends to fund its activities. “No one should have to choose between eating and using sanitary pads,” Abass says of his team’s drive in the face of paucity of funds.
While reusable pads stand as a sustainable approach to fighting period poverty in Nigeria, Olivia Onyemaobi, the CEO of Pad Up Creations, one of the few reusable pad production companies in the country, submits that school girls and women in rural areas must be fully informed about the process of using these long-lasting pads for there to be any measurable impact.
She noted that the need to orientate people, especially children and women in rural communities, on how to use reusable pads is an indication that initiatives set up to tackle period poverty are important because they can carry out menstrual hygiene training in secondary schools and they can also teach the girls how to use the pads.
Making a case for reusable pads, Onyemaobi argued that the long-lasting pads are more hygienic and body friendly than disposable sanitary pads.
“When you talk about being hygienic, disposable sanitary pads are made of chemicals and most of them are really not body friendly. When you eat anything, the enzymes in your body break them down and your stomach takes what is necessary, the rest are ejected through your system, urine and sweat.
“But on your skin, there are no chemicals to break them down. It goes directly into your body stream and this is how the disposable sanitary pads work. The chemicals in them go directly into the bloodstream because there is nothing like enzymes,” she concluded.
*This report was supported by the Education Report Project aided by Hamzat Lawal (Malala Education Champion) and Onyi Bala Foundation.
This review was featured on Twinkl in their blog Menstrual Hygiene Tips: Importance of Cleanliness during Menstruation.