Being a girl child comes with multiple challenges. The challenges that usually culminated at teenage range from societal perception of indispensability of women, traditional sensitivity of comportment/dress consciousness, peer group or schoolmate influence, endless distractions to hormonal changes.
What appears to be the most traumatic is the challenge of hormonal changes, which by all mean, comes with ceaseless prices of compulsory monthly expenditure and health hazards.
In a society with hard economic realities where other needs compete for the little resources at their disposal, menstrual hygiene becomes a secondary issue in the pecking order of their demands. Little wonder statistics have that eight out of every 10 girls in most schools in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, lack adequate menstrual hygiene education and accessibility to sanitary products.
In the interactions Daily Sun had with some of the schoolgirls, it was a litany of ordeals, narrating how their menstrual flows have affected their entire lives especially punctuality and concentration in school.
They agonisingly narrated that the only way to have equal competition with their male counterparts is to create means to provide more awareness on how to reduce cramps, track menstrual circle to avoid being stained during classes and provision of sanitary pads.
This, according to them, is because almost every girl child misses classes two to three days in a month due to monthly menstrual-related challenges, preferring to stay at home in order not to be disgraced.
A student of one of the mixed schools in Abuja, Ade Amodu, had while narrating how her repeated embarrassments by her male classmates over her stain in class, pleaded for more enlightenment on menstrual hygiene.
She said over 90 per cent of them are victims of the embarrassment of menstrual or cramps, complaining that it will not allow them concentrate properly to their learning activities:
“It is not that easy for some of us in mixed schools because once you are stained, some of your classmates will make fun of you, they would say the seat is contaminated with virus and move to elsewhere.
“So, in order not to be embarrassed regularly in mixed of our male classmates, it is needful for proper orientation on how to track our menstrual period. Most of us cannot really monitor our systems to be prepared for our normal monthly visitors.
“Apart from being aware of the time, we still face the challenges of sanitary pads. Like me, I stay with my aunt and it is not always that sanitary pads or money to buy them are available. I normally resort to using rags, which obviously makes me uncomfortable in the class. I will be very thankful if the government and other wealthy citizens can help some of us who cannot afford sanitary pads by donating some to especially public schools.”
Her schoolmate, Justina Age, attributed the reason for most of the girls absent from school to menstrual flow, appealing that it will be good if something is done to aid girls especially those in public schools on the provision of sanitary pads.
A junior secondary school student, Hellen Onche, noted that menstrual flow has stopped many girls from attending classes due to inadequate provision of menstrual pads: “There is no day that passes without one or two of my classmates taking permission that they are not feeling well and if you take a careful observation, you will discover that it is menstruation and they won’t attend classes for two to three to days.
“Most of them are not because of cramps but because they cannot afford sanitary pads to package themselves. It has affected our learning ability and we will be grateful if the government can help us in the provision of sanitary pads to enable us to be punctual in school.”
Another student, Halima Usman, confessed that she is normally absent from school three days every month not because her parents cannot afford sanitary pads but due to cramps: “I am not regular in school because of cramps. Once I am menstruating everyone around me will be aware because I cannot sit down or lie on the bed. I can only lie on the floor or anything cool. To worsen the matter, my parents told me that there is no medication for it.
“I am afraid because it has stopped me from writing examination at times and if it continues like this my future is in danger. I will be grateful if we can be taught what to do to reduce cramps and also more awareness on menstrual hygiene.”
A teacher in one of the schools, who didn’t want her name in print, confirmed that most girls are absent from school, two to three days every month due to inability to manage their menstrual period.
She explained that when she noticed that the permission was becoming much, she had a meeting with all the female students and they agreed to be donating any amount of money they have for the purchase of sanitary pads for emergency and those who cannot afford it:
“There is no day that passes without one or two of the girls coming to tell you that they want to go home because their uniforms have been stained, including the those that have already stayed back.
“When I noticed that it was much and also affecting their performances, I held a meeting with them and we agreed to be donating any amount and named it girls’ biscuits. That was how I started moving from class to class to collect money for our biscuits, the response was high, so we bought the pads in cartons and kept in my office.
“Once the notice any sign of the arrival of the guest, they will come for their biscuits, both the ones that could not pay were allowed to use freely. That was how the issue of ‘I want to go home’ and absenteeism reduced among female students. I think it would go a long way in helping our girls if other schools can emulate this.”
Another teacher, Maria Adamu, stated that government used to supply them with sanitary products monthly when she was a student. She said that will be the only way to the actualization of inclusive education.