Abenmire Williams, who writes from Calabar, Nigeria, makes a subtle case for why sanitary towels should be given to young girls free.
Stakeholders in the health sector say it is time for government and donor agencies to make moves towards the provision of free sanitary towels for girls and women, especially in rural communities. They say this has become pertinent, following a number of negative effects associated with poor menstrual hygiene. Menstruation is a natural process but in most rural communities, it is rarely talked about.
A visit to some public schools in Akpabuyo, Bakassi, Biase, and Odukpani local government areas of Cross River state make it clear that most girls are too shy to talk about the subject.
This could be as a result of the culture of shame in most Nigerian communities where issues concerning women, sexuality, reproduction and the likes are barely ever talked about or treated with excess coyness or outright disdain. Cultural norms and religious taboos compound these issues too.
A conversation with girls in the aforementioned communities make it clear that, Stigma around menstruation helps to inflict indignity upon millions of women and girls.
There is a relationship between menstrual hygiene and school drop out of girls in higher secondary schools as the monthly menstruation period creates obstacles. Gender unfriendly school cultures, lack of clean, safe and private sanitation facilities also create huge obstacles. Consequently, these school girls get left out and there are no equal opportunities.
Findings from the aforementioned communities reveal that 80 percent of girls use tissue papers and rags (most likely unclean) during their periods. Apart from the social issues already identified, the health risks involved can be overwhelming.
Poor protection and inadequate washing facilities increase susceptibility to infection. Using unclean rags, leaf, papers etc can introduce or support the growth of unwanted bacteria that could lead to infection. Changing pads infrequently can cause skin irritation which can become infected if the skin becomes broken.
A chat with Brenda Effiom, the founder of Brencare Foundation, one of the organisation’s working to improve menstrual hygiene amongst girls in Cross River State, further reveals that absenteeism is a norm in most of these schools as girls will be absent from school at different times in the month for an average of four days every week as a result of her monthly period. She says stigmatization from the male gender during the monthly period is another huge concern.
Brenda also lamented about a lack of information about menstruation amongst the girls, as menstruation is never an issue discussed in most homes. The most pressing concern however, is the inability of girls to access clean sanitary towels for their periods, hence the call for the provision of free sanitary towels to girls in rural communities.
The foundation believes that if condoms can be offered for free when sex is a choice, then sanitary pads should be distributed frequently too as menstruation is not a choice.
Abenmire Adi Williams is a broadcaster with HIT 95.9 FM, Calabar, CRS.
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