By Charity Nwakaudu
One major physiological change a girl experiences at puberty is monthly menstruation. This requires disposable sanitary towels for better hygenic experience.
But for young schoolgirls in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), especially those from poor backgrounds, access to these sanitary towels is zero. Once the monthly flow approaches, they are horrified because it is tantamount to putting their lives on hold.
Investigations by Daily Sun show that with the widening poverty and high cost of sanitary towels, most girls resort to managing their periods with pieces of disused cloths or tissue papers, which are highly unhygienic and uncomfortable.
In some rural areas, menstruation is associated with stigma since there are no hygienic wares given to girls to manage the flow. To avoid getting blood stains on their bodies and feeling odd, these young girls often detach themselves from social activities during monthly flow.
Some seek permission to leave school premises once it meets them in the class. Others abstain from school completely.
To worsen the girls’ horror, lack of access to functional and dedicated female toilets, limited information on menstrual hygiene management and limited sanitary materials to manage menstruation make it more difficult for the young girls to loathe puberty.
The United Nations says one in 10 girls in African misses school while menstruating. The cheapest sanitary towel available today is N400 and contains about seven pieces of the pads. An average of four pads are expected to be used in a day if properly managed, leaving the girl with three pieces.
A student of a government secondary school in Mpape, Chidinma Okeke, said she has never used a sanitary towel since she started menstruating. She does not know how it is used.
There was a time the flow came right in examination hall. Worried and confused, she managed to inform a female teacher who gave her a sanitary pad. Since she never used it before, she ended up staining her uniform; the same embarrassment she tried to avoid:
“I always used pieces of cloth and at other times, I managed to buy tissue paper that most times scattered.
“Though, I am not comfortable with it because it stains my clothes most times but I was forced to do it because when I first saw my period, my mother taught me how to use pieces of cloth while it lasted.”
A student from Bwari, Mariam Adah, said she normally wears extra pants after padding her first pant with washed pieces of cloth to avoid blood stains.
Joy Nkem said she only uses sanitary pads when going out because they are very expressive and her parents cannot afford to buy the quantity needed for a five-day monthly flow.
A school teacher who does not want her name mentioned, confessed that most adolescents do not use pads, nor do they know how it is used. She said most female students not only miss classes because of menstrual pains but are afraid of being stained.
She added that she encouraged them to stop avoiding classes during their periods: “I gathered the girls at the beginning of the term. I explained to them how special their body is and why they are not supposed to be missing classes because of it.
“We then agreed to be contributing money at the beginning of every term which was not mandatory. Those who couldn’t contribute were not stopped from using it. The money realized was used to buy sanitary pads in large quantities and kept in my office.
“We named it girls biscuits because of those who were shy. Once they noticed it coming, they rushed to me and asked for the biscuits. I would just give it to them.
“I noticed that since we started this, most girls no longer take permission that they are not feeling well and want to go home. The painful aspect is that once they leave that day, you won’t see them in school until they are done.
“I think our children need to be educated on the proper use of sanitary pads. For us to have a better and healthier future, government should look for a way of making sanitary pads free for school-age women.”
Executive Director, Weekenders Magazine, Princess Joy Idam, insisted that provision of free sanitary pads for adolescent girls in Nigeria would ensure better menstrual management and less stressful education.
To walk the talk, Idam now distributes sanitary pads to schools in the FCT every month: “It is time to help our children to safeguard their future. Let’s try. I know we can.”
Executive Director, Make A Difference Initiative, Lemmy Ugheghe, said government needs to be intentional in matters that concern the children if they really want the future to be beautiful: “Children are our pension.
“They are our future, when we are old and weary, they are the hope we have to take care of us. This can only be achieved if they are properly attended to today. We must make their lives beautiful, if we really want ours to be beautiful in future.
“Countries are intentional, that is why they get the health of the incoming generation right. The poverty ratio is very high and as a result not many people can afford to get by themselves.
“If the government is conscious when they do campaigns to share condoms and contraceptives, then this is very important because our children, especially the girl child, are usually endangered when they use rags and all sorts of materials as sanitary pads. These create infections and eventually goes to affect their sexuality and sexual health.
“You find out that after all these, when these children grow into adulthood and get married,they may not even be able to conceive and have the joy of motherhood. We must continually call government out to be deliberate and intentional, making sure that we prioritize the welfare of the children.”
Charles Usie, Country Director, Plan International Nigeria, called for the provision of free sanitary pads for adolescent girls for better menstrual management: “At some point in our history, we advocated for the eradication of HIV/AIDS, and one of the things we did was to advocate for free condoms. Menstrual health is also a global issue. Let us also raise our voices so that it will get to a point where sanitary pads will become free for young girls.”