Frank Talk; Let’s Talk Period Poverty

Over 800 million people around the world menstruate daily. Of this figure, a massive 500 million of them experience Period Poverty.

Let’s talk Period Poverty.

Per the Royal College of Nursing website, is Period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints, this can be caused by a wide range of life events that negatively impact on a girl or woman’s ability to access sanitary products to manage a most intimate and regular occurrence in her life.

This global problem affects both developed and developing countries alike. In the U.S., there are an estimated 42 million women living in poverty, majority of whom are too poor to care for themselves during their periods; a survey in the U.K. found that 1 in 10 girls were unable to afford sanitary products, while 1 in 7 girls had to borrow from a friend; with about 83 million people living below the poverty line in Nigeria, menstrual hygiene products are indeed an unattainable luxury for many. All around the world, 1 in 10 girls are unable to afford these products, and at least 12% of girls have been force to make do with unsafe and unhygienic substitutes. These have far-reaching effects and consequences for sexual and maternal health – a lot of trouble for a physiological body function over which women and girls have little to no say or control.

This post is a conversation with a young lady working to change this story in her community, 1 girl at a time.

Tell us a bit about yourself

My name is Biachi Ndidi Anointing. A graduate of the department of English from Benue State University. I am a page poet, performance poet and nonfiction writer. I was the third prize winner for Nigeria Student Poetry Prize with my feminist poem, “We Bear Sadness in Our Name.” I bake, cook and an entrepreneur from Delta State but reside in Benue State.

How did you get interested in Menstrual Hygiene

I got interested in Menstrual Hygiene when I was pondering on what I could do for my community in celebration of my birthday. The thought of visiting an orphanage home came to my mind but I remembered my discussion with a teenager who had asked me if it was okay to use rags in place of pads during menstruation.  With the thought I asked few girls in my vicinity what they understood by menstrual hygiene and discovered that they had no knowledge – zero idea about the concept of menstrual hygiene. For some of them, when I asked if they used rags or pads, they said they use pad when they could afford it but due to hike in cost of things they have been using rags and toilet tissue. So, I decided to start this project to sensitize young girls on menstrual hygiene and provide them with free pads.

Who is your target group?

My target group is young vulnerable teenagers who cannot afford good menstrual materials and therefore resort to whatever unhealthy materials they get their hands on. Some of these girls do not even know of the existence of pads. For some of them, there is nothing like menstrual hygiene – these are people whose their menstrual health might never occur to the government. There are girls whose parents can barely afford three square meal for their family, so the idea of even getting money for pads is out of the question.  This lack has exposed  of these girls to being abused. There are girls that we met that narrated how men lure them with the promise of money to buy pads. Some of them are displaced girls staying in the IDP camps with no hope of getting access to sanitary products.

I came to know more about these girls through personal research; by visiting some of the places where the girls reside. I also engaged them individually and discovered their lack of  proper menstrual hygiene orientation. The saddest thing was when one of these girls saw a packet of sanitary pad and thought it was some fancy biscuit – as disheartening as this sounds, they live close to Makurdi metropolis, yet this is the reality they are saddled with.

How was #PadUpAGirl conceived?

The #PadUpAGirl Project was conceived during the first outreach on February 16th 2021 which is also my birthday. Before the outreach, in my conversation with many N.G.Os I was told to wait for May 28th, but I realised that that date is just a day is set out to educate young girls, and to distribute pads to particular places. So what happens to the other places? Particularly as this single day maybe targeted at schools in the heart of the city. What about the girls in the community who cannot afford to go to schools? What about the girls who live in outskirt communities and IDP camps? So I insisted on doing it on my birthday despite the many discouragements; it yielded good results, and so I felt this was the best way to go about it and decided to start the campaign to reach out to as many girls as possible, starting in Benue state.

How many outreaches have you done, and what has been the response?

We have been able to carried out five outreaches since February. For the month of February we visited Katugun in North Bank area. Beyond just sharing pads and giving Menstrual Hygiene talks, we also discuss Sexual and Gender Based Violence with the young women and girls. At first there is reluctance on the part of the girls to engage in these conversations due to the many taboos and stigmas associated with menstruation, but we are always able to win them over. That same day we visited L.G.E.A primary and secondary school at Wurukum and their response were also positive.

For the month of March and April we visited Wadata River Bank and Ijumatu in Modern Market areas and for May we visited the Internally Displaced Persons’ camp at Federal Housing, First gate. At this place, we took another dimension; we did not only focus on the girl-child and women, but allowed males to be present to listen, in order to help combat some deep-seated beliefs and taboos. Since they are mostly people displaced from their indigenous homes out of the metropolis, we performed a play to erase the mentality of menstruation as being dirty or associated with taboos. Their response was also positive.

We also gave a huge part of the sensitization in their indigenous language, Tiv. Sometimes we have come across difficult audiences at the beginning of our sessions, who later change their attitude as the program progressed.

How do you fund the activities of #PadUpAGirl?

We started this project funding from individual supports from friends, family and people on social media platforms. The success of the first outing in February was greatly supported by SEVHAGE Literary and Development Initiative and Poets in Nigeria (PIN). We have also received great support from individuals, and have gone ahead to partner with other groups like The Luminary Group, and Community Link.

What’s you dream regarding the initiative, and the fate of the Nigerian girl regarding MH access?

My dream for Nigeria is to undertake actions in making pads free in the next 10 years (2021-2031). A short term desire of mine is for pads coming into the state to be sold at cheap and affordable price  for teenagers in the space of two years, starting with Benue State and hoping to expand to other parts of the country. To address the issues of pad usage beyond just a moment but for the future. The incessant hike in pad prices, if not combated, will create a huge opportunity for negligence  menstrual hygiene. If people cannot afford to buy pad, what then can one tell them about menstrual hygiene?

How can individuals and organisations collaborate with you?

Individuals and Organisations can contribute to this project in forms of funds. We are also open to links where we can get financial donations or pad items. We need a lot of funds to be able to reach out to as many girls as possible and at such, any amount anyone is able to contribute goes a long away.

Last words?

Every outreach reveals the depth of the lack many Nigerians are faced with. Sometimes I try to picture how a woman can just pick up leaves to use as pads – it still beats my imagination? I have been amazed at the ignorance I encountered from girls calling pads infection soap to pampers and the shocking one, a biscuit. That these are coming from girls over 15 years, in this present century shows the problem we are faced with. The subject of hygiene is another uphill struggle. This is the narrative I hope to change, one girl at a time!

There you have it guys! Period poverty is real, and displaced persons and persons living with disability are at an even higher risk of experiencing the shame and discomfort of not being able to take adequate care of themselves during periods.

To support the #PadUpAGirl initiative with cash and hygiene items like pads, tampons, menstrual cups, and soaps, please leave a comment below this post.

House Keeping!

This post was initially meant for Menstrual Hygiene day, but like Anointing says, we don’t have to limit ourselves to one day, to talk about an everyday problem.

P.S., it’s good to be back! ;D

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