Period poverty is a growing issue that increases the health problems which girls in Nigeria face. Period poverty occurs when a girl cannot afford menstrual products during menstruation, which is approximately four days every four weeks. Such girls would often resort to unhygienic practices such as using items like newspapers, rags and napkins in place of appropriate sanitary products like pads and tampons.1 Because of the conservative social attitude surrounding menstruation in Nigeria, the problem of period poverty has received very little attention.
Period Poverty Statistics in Nigeria: Girls and Women
Approximately 1.2 billion women across the world do not have sufficient access to menstrual sanitation products
An estimate of 1 in 10 African girls miss school during their periods.2
44% of Nigerians face extreme poverty and cannot afford the average cost of a pack of pads ($1.30)
Effects of Period Poverty on Girls and Women in Nigeria
Psychological Breakdown: Psychologically traumatic outcomes for girls, such as low self- worth is caused by period poverty. Reports also suggest that women who experience period poverty are likely to suffer from depression.3
Education: According to The National Democracy and Health Survey 2013, girls make up 60% of the 10.5 million out-of-school children in Nigeria.4 This is partly due to period poverty. Studies have shown that it is a common occurrence for girls to miss school during their menstruation periods due to not having access to products to keep them clean during the day or drugs to reduce period pain. This puts them behind in school as this time makes up about 20% of their school year. Some girls are even forced to drop out of school because of their inability to make up for the lost time.
Health Complications: Period poverty forces girls and women into unhygienic practices which can negatively affect their health. Infections and diseases commonly occur when they use non-sterile products such as tissue paper, newspapers, rags, cloth, or other inadequate sanitary products. Because menstruation is connected to the womb, contact with germs or bacteria can cause serious complications to her reproductive health. A common disease in this case is endometriosis which is an infection of the lining of the womb. Such an infection can lead to pelvic inflammatory diseases which causes irritation, pain, discomfort, vaginal discharge, tube blockages and sometimes fatal health complications. Poor disposal practices of used sanitary products also creates an environment for germs and diseases to thrive in poorer communities.
Improving Period Poverty for Girls and Women in Nigeria
Elimination of the Tax on Pads: Nigeria places a heavy tax on menstrual products, with a pack of pads costing around $1.30.5 People who are facing extreme poverty make less than $1.90 per day and therefore cannot afford the cost of adequate products in the market.The government must take concrete steps to alleviate period poverty in Nigeria by removing tax on pads and providing adequate healthy and hygienic alternative means of taking care of menstruation.
Education and Creation of Awareness by Government and NGOs: UNICEF developed the Menstrual Health Management (MHM) program based on its research in 2017. The program is an initiative to teach women and adolescent girls how to use “clean menstrual management material” to absorb menstrual blood and to provide access to readily available facilities to dispose of the menstrual material.6 The government and NGOs as well as private individuals should work together to create awareness of these issues, bring this research to light and promote its application to alleviate period poverty.
Provision of Free Sanitary Products: In addition to the removal of tax on pads, a further step that should be implemented by the government is the provision of free pads and products to women and girls. Seeing as menstruation is not a matter of choice, the free access to hygienic sanitary products should be regarded as a human right and the government should aim to provide for it and protect it.
Although period poverty is now becoming a growing concern and interest for persons and groups leading the fight against gender discrimination in Nigeria, the public is still widely unaware of the gravity of the situation and government efforts have been inadequate. Too many girls are suffering from this every day in a world that already places other obstacles against them. The health and survival of girls everywhere in the country is deeply dependent on the alleviation of period poverty. This is relatively one of the less difficult problems to solve for girls in Nigeria, and so the society must be made aware and more efforts must be made collectively to achieve this goal.