Health and Healthcare Systems

It's time we prioritized menstrual health in Nigeria. Here's why

Teenage girls being trained on the production of reusable sanitary pads: Girls lose 24% of their school days in Nigeria due to menstruation.

Girls lose 24% of their school days in Nigeria due to menstruation. Image: World Economic Forum/Abuja Hub

Favour Godwill
Global Shaper, Abuja Hub, World Economic Forum
Dr. Princess Ifeoma Ike
Public Health Optometrist; CEO Princess Vision Eye Clinic Limited Abuja, Nigeria, as well as Global Shaper, Abuja Hub, and Member of the World Economic Forum's Expert Network on Global Health, Future of Healthcare, and Women's Health.
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Women's Health

This article is part of: Centre for Health and Healthcare

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  • Women and girls significantly lack access to menstruation hygiene products and information on menstruation due to cultural and religious taboos.
  • Poor menstrual hygiene can pose physical health risks and has been linked to reproductive and urinary tract infections as well as poor educational outcomes.
  • The Abuja Hub of the Global Shapers Community addressed period poverty through the Pad & Pant Project, holding awareness sessions on essential facts around menstruation and teaching young girls to make reusable pads.

Period poverty is a reality to many women and girls in low and middle-income nations, who are forced to use rags, tissue paper or leaves in place of menstrual hygiene products. Poor menstrual hygiene can pose physical health risks and has been linked to reproductive and urinary tract infections and can lead to poor educational outcomes.

In Africa, discussions around puberty is still considered a taboo, which is why parents and educators seldom approach the subject and leave issues around reproductive health untapped with adolescents and teenagers. The reason for this lack of attention is usually cultural or religious, especially in rural areas, allowing a persistent absence of information about menstruation such as what will happen to a girl’s body when they menstruate, when most girls expect their their first period and how they should track their periods on a calendar.

On 4 June 2022, to acknowledge Menstrual Hygiene Day, the Abuja Hub of the Global Shapers Community made efforts to promote menstrual hygiene awareness and access to products in Kuje Area Council, Abuja.

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Menstruation hygiene solutions

As part of several local initiatives to support menstrual health and hygiene, the Abuja Hub taught 50 secondary school girls in Kuje Area Council on how to make reusable sanitary pads through the Pad and Pant Project designed to teach secondary school girls how to manage their menstrual cycle with dignity, have access to affordable menstrual hygiene products, such as by making reusable menstration products and also highlights the three “Rs” of waste management – recycle, reuse and reduce – to enforce sustainability of menstrual hygiene.

During the focus group discussion, some girls expressed how they felt impure during their periods, going on to explain how it limited their movement and involvement in various activities.

In most parts of Nigeria, menstruation is shrouded by misconceptions and taboos. It violates the rights of women and girls to bodily integrity, equality and freedom from degrading and inhumane treatment. It also violates their right to privacy.

The prevalence of these misunderstandings informed the Abuja Hub’s approach of presenting essential facts about menstruation and what happens during the menstrual cycle as well as instructed participants on how to make reusable sanitary pads. The Pad and Pant Project also gave them a pad and pant kit with supplies to recreate what they had learned and a soap to promote Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).

Abuja Global Shapers encouraged beneficiaries to safeguard their menstrual health and hygiene.
Image: Abuja Hub

Missing out

As noted by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), a woman menstruates for roughly nine years of her life, the length of time many girls in Nigeria have to manage their periods without access to proper menstruation products and bearing the negative impact this has on their learning, health and wellness and happiness.

During the Abuja Hub sessions, some participants even admitted that they had missed lessons because they couldn't find menstrual hygiene products to carry them through the duration of the class. That falls in line with reports that say girls in Nigeria miss an average of 24% of a school year, which affects their educational performance with some dropping out of school due to poor grades or psychological stress. In addition, sometimes, to afford menstrual products, school girls exchange sex for money, increasing the risk of sexual and gender-based violence.

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Beyond teaching adolescent girls to manufacture reusable sanitary pads, volunteers of the Pad and Pant Project were fulfilled to have learnt and taught the same process to a younger generation. What's more, the skill in learning how to make these products could be commodified and a source of income. We believe that with the right information, the fear and misconceptions surrounding menstruation will be abated.

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