The ANSWER to Period Poverty in Nigeria
We need to address the fact that the unaffordability of sanitary pads by women especially young girls is a public health concern in Nigeria. With Nigeria being the country with the highest level of extremely poor people in the world, we must face the reality that period poverty is an issue our women continue to combat.
I realize that when we discuss the issue of sanitary pads, there’s always the debate concerning free condoms vs pads, where people believe that because condoms are free, then sanitary pads should be free also. In Nigeria, unfortunately, this is not our reality as condoms are not free; however, I will quickly address this.
The belief that men are receiving freebies whilst women are not is flawed because women also receive free female condoms but more importantly, condoms are not meant for just men as it benefits both men and women. Free condoms were advocated for by activists in the 1980s when the HIV epidemic was savaging people, which should be our strategy in Nigeria as we have a HIV epidemic right at our doorsteps.
The idea of condoms being a man thing also positions sex as something women give to men when in reality condoms should be purchased by both men and women for an activity that they are both equal parties in.
However, we can’t deny the fact that women should be able to have access to sanitary pads, especially when periods are things that they have no control over. I also keep in mind that young girls who lack sanitary pads miss classes often or are forced to use unhygienic materials during their periods.
But is the remedy to this, free pads? No! I don’t agree that the Government should carry the responsibility of providing pads to young girls and women on their shoulders because it cost money to produce and distribute these pads, and it is also not a sustainable approach because you have to ask yourself how many pads they will produce and where will the funds come from?
The ANSWER to Period Poverty In Nigeria
Subsidizing of Sanitary Pads
The Government can focus on subsidizing these products or making them tax-free. A pack of pad containing 8 pieces cost from N300- N500 depending on the brand, this amount can be too much for many women as they need two or more packs per month. Families struggling to feed cannot keep up with this level of expense every month.
Subsidizing sanitary pads will make it easier for economically disadvantaged people to be able to purchase pads and also encourage NGOs or individuals who want to give free pads to buy and distribute more.
The popular condom Gold Circle (that has new variants called flex by Gold circle) has been heavily subsidized by the Government to ensure that anyone is able to afford it especially young people who are just at the debut of their sexual life, as gold circle are often thought as the “beginner/starter condom”, or “emergency condom”. Making pads subsidized also helps remove the shame around menstruation as young women at the onset of their periods can now easily purchase these pads without seeking help from people who might take advantage of their vulnerability.
These are clothes pads that can be washed after use; they are made with absorbent material such as cotton. And once a woman has acquired 5/6 cloth menstrual pads, they have reliable protection for years to come, as most of them are made to last for five years or more. This is a much more economical approach compared to sanitary pads that are disposable at every use.
Apart from the fact that it’s also eco- friendly, it takes little to maintain- you just wash and dry it under the sun that acts as a disinfectant. Providing girls from economically disadvantaged backgrounds with reusable pads will go a long way in ensuring that they never miss a class due to periods and also help women continue their normal day to day activities without having to worry about where the next N1000 will come for them to purchase sanitary pads.
Another affordable product that can last up to 5 years is the menstrual cup- it is a small flexible funnel-shaped cup made of rubber or silicone that you insert into your vagina to catch and collect period fluid. Menstrual cups have been demonstrated to hold more blood than pads and can be used for up to 12 hours depending on your flow.
It is also very eco-friendly and needs the person to purchase just one, that they wash after each use. However, because it has to be inserted into the vagina, and we live in a society where the idea of virginity is still quite sacred- I fear that many young girls may not be comfortable inserting in. But I believe that making it an option for other women will go a very long way as they are better in the long run for many women who find it difficult to purchase pads every month.
Reusable pads and menstrual cups are also options that many women who are financially secure have advocated for because they find them to be much more comfortable than the disposable pads and tampons and also say that it frees them from irritation and scratching that accompanies some pads.
Use other Non-Popular Brands
I realize that many women are hell-bent on using popular brands that are often on the high side. Women can purchase other brands that provide comfort and are very suitable for periods and are not as expensive as the popular names.
Support from NGOs and Social Enterprises
We need more organizations to prioritize the act of producing products with the end goal of reaching economically disadvantaged people. A non-profit organization like DKT promotes family planning and HIV prevention through social marketing- they are in charge of products like kiss and fiesta condoms, Lydia post-pill and IUD and many more. If you have purchased kiss condoms, you will know that they are currently cheaper than the gold circle that’s been subsidized by the Government- so you can see how the organization prioritizes developing countries during production.
The truth is that many women have found themselves in positions where they couldn’t afford to buy pads- something that many consider basics. This had made it much more embarrassing for women to discuss and admit; we need to remove the shame around this issue and discuss how poverty impacts our sexual and reproductive health choices.
Menstrual Periods are a normal part of a woman’s development and reproductive life and should not be seen as a burden to them- we need to find ways that make it easier for women to embrace their sexual and reproductive rights without feeling shame or having to miss classes which in turn leads to them falling behind their male peers.