By Margaret Aladeselu
37 million women and girls in Nigeria are in period poverty. This is why we must do something urgently.
We hardly ever talk about the fact that — according to the Minister of Women Affairs Pauline Tallen — more than 37 million girls and women in Nigeria cannot afford menstrual hygiene products. That means every month, more than 37 million girls and women are unable to safely manage their periods, limiting their ability to study, work and live their lives. While this is an unfortunate situation that has become normalized in Nigeria, it still doesn’t make the situation less alarming.
Over the last ten years, sanitary pads — which are the preferred period product in Nigeria — have been subjected to ridiculously inflated prices, especially imported sanitary pads. I remember when I got my period for the first time in 2013, I purchased my first pad for N250. Now in 2022, I buy the same pad for N700. In a country where 40% of Nigeria’s population lives on less than $1 per day, menstrual pads (which typically cost up to $1) are more than many can afford. Some girls and women are forced to engage in sexual activities with men just to be able to afford menstrual products.
When girls can’t afford to pay for menstrual hygiene products, they must resort to cheaper but unhygienic options, such as rags, toilet paper and old newspapers. Research shows that poor menstrual hygiene has harmful effects on a woman’s sexual reproductive health — including increasing their risk for reproductive and urinary tract infections, which can result in future infertility and birth complications. Using unhygienic options not only endangers Nigerian girls physically but also threatens their mental health as they might experience heightened anxiety as they approach their cycle.
One of our fundamental rights as human beings is the right to health — but when it comes to menstrual health, this right is often overlooked. Even though period poverty is the reason why 24% of Nigerian girls miss classes during their menstruation because of their inability to afford hygienic menstrual products, it still remains a gender issue that is hardly spoken about due to patriarchal and religious stereotypes. Society teaches Nigerian girls to see menstruation as a topic of shame that should never be spoken about in public.
I have seen firsthand the way period poverty affects Nigerian girls’ lives. My cousin was due to take the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) exam, an entrance exam for Nigerian universities. She was scheduled to take the exam in Oyo state even though she lived in Ogun state. By the time she arrived at her JAMB center, she had already exhausted the little cash her mother gave her due to the high cost of transportation. So when she got her period, instead of taking the exam, she was forced to walk the lonely streets of Wakajaye, Ibadan looking for an adult that could spare her N600 (less than $1) to buy a pack of sanitary pads. She wanted to become a lawyer and for the longest time, her JAMB exam was all she spoke about. It broke my heart to know that something as natural as menstruation was what stopped her from gaining admission into any university that year.
Menstrual hygiene should not be a luxury. That’s why I started a Change.org petition calling on the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs to remove taxes on all menstrual products, especially imported ones. The Nigerian government must put policies in place to ensure that all period products are tax-free and more accessible to the entire menstruating population. This petition is directly targeted at Pauline Tallen, the Minister of Women Affairs. But in order for this petition to produce effective results, I need as many signatures as I can get so please add your name to my call.
In addition to these policy changes, I want to break down stigmas around menstruation in Nigeria. I am tired of hearing periods spoken about with disgust and discrimination. I want our policymakers to be held accountable until they provide free access to menstrual products for school girls. I want girls and women in rural areas to not only be able to afford menstrual products but to also have unlimited access to clean water to ensure safe menstrual health management.
No girl should have to wonder how many days of school she’ll miss each month because of her period. No girl should have to miss an exam because she can’t afford a pad.
Join me in calling on the Nigerian government to remove taxes on all menstrual products and help every girl and woman safely manage her period.
Margaret Aladeselu is a Change Leader from Nigeria under the We Create Change program; a leadership program delivered by Nguvu Collective and Change.org.